My daughter is fourteen and very intelligent. She does well in school, but has told me that she thinks she is in love with a young man.

It scares me to let her have a boyfriend when she is still so young. It could cut short her studies. Besides, for me dating is a step toward marriage. I don’t know what to do.

Dear Friend,

Being responsible for guiding children through the teenage years and into adulthood is a challenging task for any parent. I remember the story of Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy.(1) His parents left the city of Jerusalem, confident that Jesus was in their large traveling party, probably with His relatives or friends. He was obviously mature enough that they didn’t worry about watching over Him every minute. However, when the next day they were unable to find Him, they became worried and returned to Jerusalem. They found Him back in the temple, asking questions of the teachers and amazing them with His understanding.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, scolded Him for having worried His parents. But Jesus responded that she should have known that He would be in His Father’s house, the temple of God.

In this story we have an example of the normal development of teenagers. All go through the process of separating from their parents, thinking for themselves, and learning to make their own decisions. Culture, economics, intelligence, and personality all affect the rate of healthy separation, but the parents’ goal should be to adequately prepare the teenager for the emotional and physical separation that is coming.

The fact that your daughter confided her feelings to you is a wonderful sign that you have a good relationship with her. However, the way you react to the information will set the stage for the rest of her teenage years. If you demand that she not have a boyfriend, she will almost certainly do it behind your back. This sets her up to lie to you so that you won’t ever know what’s really going on.

Instead, we recommend that you encourage your daughter’s friendship with both girls and boys. Invite them over to your house for games and other activities. Make your home an inviting place for her friends to hang out, and encourage her to have over several friends at one time. Your home is the safest place for your daughter to spend time with her friends.

When your daughter talks about her “boyfriend,” listen with patience and without judgment. Never belittle her feelings or tell her that it is “puppy love” and that it won’t last. Instead, take the opportunity to point out the good things about the young man, such as that he is always respectful to you or that he seems to care a lot for his family. If you find the good qualities in him, your daughter will not feel compelled to take his side against you.

Of course, it would be easier if your daughter were not yet interested in boys. But that is not something you can control. Instead of trying to control it, take advantage of the opportunities it offers you to guide your daughter safely through it, learning valuable lessons all along the way.

We wish you well,

1 Lk 2:41-51