Q: Our 15-year-old daughter is interested in an 18-year-old who also likes her. I’m a bit concerned about the age difference – what is an OK difference in ages?
A: If your daughter met her friend 10 years from now, then the age difference would seem insignificant. But during adolescence, three years make a difference.
Monitoring activities. Your daughter and her friend are at different developmental levels. He is about to step into the adult world, whether at college, in the military or in a full-time job. Although his parents will continue to play a key role in terms of advice and support, he is going to be regulating his own behavior on a day-to-day basis. Your daughter, on the other hand, still needs to have her choices and activities monitored. Teens sometimes wonder why parents have to check up on them: “Don’t you trust me?” Although we do trust our adolescents, it is still important to make sure the choices they are making are positive ones. When it comes to your daughter’s activities, you need to know where she plans to be and what other people will be there. If a friend has a party, then it is important to know if a parent will be there, too. Your family rules about various situations and the consequences for breaking the rules need to be clear. This type of parental monitoring might seem stifling to someone who is learning what it is like to be an independent young adult, but it is exactly what a 15-year-old needs.
Relationship choices. What are the expectations that your daughter and her friend have for their relationship? Listen to your daughter carefully as she explores her feelings. Are they part of a larger group of teens who share the same interests? Liking each other in these types of activities is different than a longing for couple-time alone with one another. Does he feel comfortable coming to your home and sharing a meal with family? Or does he encourage her to break away from the ties of parents and siblings? Consider how they met, as well. Have they been enjoying each other’s company at high school because they are both in band? Are they member of the yearbook staff or the church youth group? Or did they meet at the mall when she was shopping and notice a physical attraction? Take the depth of their relationship into account.
Pray for wisdom when guiding your children: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26)
Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.