Happily, some strategies are even more effective than the whole cleaning-a-shotgun routine. These are the four things I’m doing to protect my daughters’ hearts — and prepare them for dating.
1. Model Respectful Behaviors
Forget what I say to them. Nothing is as important as how I act in front of them, with their mother and with other women. It’s vital that I model respectful behaviors for my kids.
I work from home, so I have a clear perspective on how my actions as a husband impact my children. Early in my marriage, I would shut myself in our home office and work for hours. One afternoon, I overheard my oldest son and daughter playing house. My daughter asked her brother to “clean up” after a pretend meal together. I was horrified by his response: “No, I’m the dad — we don’t have to do that stuff. It’s just for girls.” From that day forward, I made sure to model more equal and respectful behavior for my children.
2. Emphasize Communication
Open communication is crucial. If my daughters know they can speak to me honestly and openly, they’ll be more likely to come to me if they run into trouble with dating. When it comes to communication between my daughter and her date, I have taught my daughter to:
- Be direct when communicating. I try to emphasize that boys are nowhere near as complicated as girls might think, thanks to bad advice from ridiculous magazines on how to assess their boyfriends and crushes. It’s up to us dads to stop the spread of misinformation.
- Exercise caution when texting. Every parent is aware of the dangers of smartphones — as well as sexting. I have done my best to make sure my daughters understand its potentially disastrous consequences, including the fact that any explicit image or video they send could be considered child pornography.
3. Set Dating Expectations Early
Many teens feel pressure to date as soon as they enter middle school. According to my two daughters, some of their friends are now interested in little but boys. Lately, they’ve felt the pressure to pair up — but that’s why we established dating expectations years ago, when my daughters still viewed boys as nothing but cootie-ridden noisemakers.
Teenagers benefit from healthy romantic relationships, which can establish a positive pattern of behavior as they enter young adulthood. That means I can’t ban my daughters from dating altogether. Still, I do set rules for them. Half of all teenagers lose their virginity in high school. I don’t want that for my girls.
4. Role-Play Boundary-Setting Scenarios
I like to practice setting personal boundaries with my daughters, which should help them react well during stressful, embarrassing, or even dangerous situations. A couple scenarios we practice are:
- How to say no to pressure to move beyond their comfort level physically, whether sending nude photos or participating in new sexual activities. We’ve practiced how to say no and when to end a toxic relationship.
- What to do when a date becomes abusive. I find it terrifying that my daughters could be abused by their future partners — and I want them to be ready if it happens.
The key point? They have a right to say no — and to draw the lines where they want them.
None of this is straightforward; dads of the past might have gotten off easy, tasked with little beyond glowering at their daughters’ dates. Sharing these strategies with my daughters, though, reassures me that they’ll be prepared to act as their own best advocates — even if I’m not there, looking over their shoulders.
Tyler Jacobson lives in Utah with his wife and four children. He enjoys camping and hiking with his family and, when not rebooting in the mountains, shares his fatherly experiences and parenting lessons with the world through writing and creative designs.