Q.I’m a freshman (should be a sophomore), and I’m dating a senior who dresses all in black. I’m 15, he’s 18. He knows we’re never gonna have sex, and I wear a purity ring. He’s fine with no sex. My mom doesn’t know we’re dating, though, because she says I’m not allowed to date juniors or seniors even though I’ve already dated three seniors and they never tried to hurt me. She’s very judgmental and would judge my boyfriend on his goth/emo appearance. How do I get her to be OK with me dating him?
- 15-year-old female
Mary Jo’s response: There are a few layers to my response to you. Thank you for writing and thank you for agreeing to place your question in this column. Texting a complicated answer like this one in my one-finger texting mode may have taken me half a day!
My first response is one of gratitude. You recognized that you needed guidance. Good for you! I respect you and honor your willingness to discuss your problem. I hear your concern.
My second response deals with your relationship with your mother. I’m wearing my “parent hat” now. Often, young people are certain that a parent won’t understand their situation. Sadly that certainty is seldom based on fact. Have you tried talking with your mom? Have you shared your feelings with her? Give her a chance – she may hear what you’re saying and see your point of view. Fear is typically the reason a teen holds back. Many young people tell me that their fear of parental rejection keeps them silent. When we keep secrets from people we love, we build a wall between us. I think that’s why you asked me for help. I sense that you want to share with your mom.
You ask me how to convince your mom that your boyfriend is OK. The simplest way is to start with the truth. Find a time when you and your mom aren’t stressed. Ideally you would be alone, without the distraction of siblings. Try to learn why she’s opposed to you dating juniors or seniors. Explain your reasons for wanting to date your boyfriend. Be sure to reinforce your decision to delay sex. Your first hurdle is the age difference, your second one is his appearance. Let’s look at age first.
Can you guess why your mom wants to keep you from dating juniors and seniors? Most ninth-grade girls claim that ninth-grade boys are immature. Most parents are worried that older guys will pressure younger girls. Remember that your mom raised you. When she looks at you, she sees a child she must protect. That’s a good thing. Adults can protect young people. Adults have the wisdom of living longer than teens. It sounds as if you’re a mature young woman, though. Your mom has instilled that maturity in you. Share how you feel. Reassure her. I know that every person is different. A young man your age could be a poor partner, just as a junior or senior could pressure you.
My third response deals honesty. Lying about serious things is a poor choice. Think of that wall. You’ve begun to violate trust with your mom simply by avoiding telling her the truth. Consider the fact that trust is one foundation of a healthy relationship. Have you thought about why your boyfriend is willing to tolerate you lying to your mom? In a healthy relationship, a partner helps you do the right thing.
My fourth response deals with your mom’s potential judgment of your boyfriend based on his looks. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many, many teens who dressed all in black and were probably labeled as goth or emo. Their dress had nothing to do with the types of people they were – their values and their ethics were not determined by their outward appearances. Show your mom this column and ask her if she’d like to discuss the way your boyfriend looks with me. His looks alone do not give me pause. If I were your mom, I’d want to meet him and get to know him before I felt comfortable with you dating. You’ll probably be annoyed with me, but I’d prefer you met with him at your home until your mom feels that the relationship is a safe, healthy and mature one. You should have input into that decision, but respect your mom. And your boyfriend needs to prove that he’s “OK” by his respect for you and for your mom, and by his actions.
I’ve known parents who did not listen to their teens’ concerns. Typically, that leads to more lies and sneaking around. I hope that you and your mom can find common ground. If she is able to supervise your time with your boyfriend until she feels safer, she may be more open to the relationship.
Finally, I’m glad you’ve chosen to wait to get involved sexually. I’m pleased that you’re discussing postponing with your partner. Talking about setting limits is very, very important.
Thanks again for bringing this complicated question to me. Please keep in touch. Let me know if I can be of any help when you talk with your mom. I’d be happy to meet with you both.