Q: Our 15-year-old daughter has told us she's in love with a 20-year-old guy who is in the Army and intending to make the Army his career. We've met him, and he is extremely respectful and well-mannered, and has told us he's in love with her. We've made it clear to both of them that for the time being at least, they may meet in our home, when we are home, and nowhere else. He is fine with that, he says, and seems sincere. Our daughter, however, is not fine with that. She wants the freedom to see him whenever and wherever. She says we don't trust her, which is only half-true. Even though he says he doesn't want physical intimacy until he's married, we know from personal experience how easy it is for young people to get carried away. Her emotionality over this (along with the fact that we actually like him) is causing us to think that perhaps we should allow some meetings away from our home. What are your thoughts?
A: I don't have thoughts about this issue; having a daughter who was once a teenager, I have but one thought: NO!
Full disclosure: I am very old-fashioned about most things male and female. I do not think teens should be allowed to date until both are 16, for example. Why 16? I have no defensible reason, actually. Sixteen just seems like a good, albeit admittedly arbitrary, number. Furthermore, if I was doing the dad thing today, any male courting my daughter would first have to come to our home several times where they could watch television together or something equally exciting (not to mention he would be required to have a long and rather purposefully intimidating conversation with me about matters of life and death) before he'd be allowed to see my daughter without adult supervision.
Then I'd set, at least initially, a curfew of 10 p.m. on non-school nights. There would be no curfew on school nights because they wouldn't be seeing one another on school nights. And so on. In short, I would be Daddy De Infierno, and proud of it.
It's one thing when both parties are about the same age; it's quite another when one is a dependent child (who has not reached the age of consent) and the other is an adult. The fact that he intends to make the Army a career is certainly in his favor, but it can also be used to everyone's advantage. Specifically, you might consider mentioning to your daughter's suitor that if he initiates or participates in any problem behavior with her – or you even THINK he has done so – that you will make a visit to his commanding officer. That should virtually guarantee good behavior, assuming he is truly serious about making a career of military service.
Having said all that, I've known or known of a good number of older married folks who began dating when one was a young adult and the other a minor. In and of itself, the situation is not a recipe for certain disaster, although it often ends up that way. And by the way, based on the conversations I've had with these folks, I'm reasonably sure they would agree with the safeguards I recommend.
These days, when I have the opportunity to advise a young woman concerning marriage, I always advise that she marry a somewhat older guy who is verifiably responsible, mature, and is not living with his parents (or in digs they have provided). Since that describes the fellow in question, I'd be inclined to restrict but not stand in the way of a relationship.
Need I say I believe in the old "ounce of prevention"?
(Visit family psychologist John Rosemond's website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.)