Attraction, Dating, and Related Disorders of Adolescence

I recently walked in on my 13½ -year old daughter doing the dishes to the tune of, “I am 13 going on 14, Fellows will fall in line . . .”  Fathers everywhere understand this to be the first symptom of Attraction, a contagious disease which can lead to a more serious disorder, Dating.

So we begin talking about Ryan and how his shy but humorous nature makes him so irresistible.  And, oh dad, have you seen how cute he is when he blushes?  He’s a doll, all right, I reply.  And so the conversation goes, me talking from my brain and Lexi talking from her hormones.  Soon we move to the topic of dating.

As many fathers do, I have strong feelings about dating.  And while she’s not currently ready to date, Lexi needs to begin preparing for the fun that awaits her.  Here are a few of the bits of information and advice I shared with Lexi.

Liking can start at 13 but dating must wait until 16.  I realize this idea isn’t a popular idea with a lot of kids, but it has many benefits.  It gives them a chance to be a master of rather than a slave to their hormones.  The natural progression of attraction dictates that smaller acts of intimacy lead to greater ones.  It just makes intuitive sense that the earlier a child starts dating, the earlier (s)he is likely to be enticed to become sexually active.

When dating begins, I suggest dating around rather than settling on a “one and only” right out of the gates.  I realize that “going steady” is in vogue, but as my dad used to tell me, “there are a lot of fish in the sea”.  I suggest dating a bunch of different boys and avoid getting cornered by one specific boy, no matter how much he looks like one of the guys in ‘N Sync.  Group dating is also a good idea, as it supports the idea of getting to know people and avoiding premature intimacy.

Speaking of intimacy, I find the ideas of two fellow psychologists persuasive.  Harvard-trained Dr. Mary Beth Clark suggests five standards as a guide to intimacy with the opposite sex:

1.  Dress modestly.  Dressing immodestly is like leaving your car door open and your car running on a busy street in a big city.

2.  Kiss sparingly.  Don’t cheapen yourself by handing out kisses like they were casual Hello’s.  Be selective . . . and keep your tongue to yourself.

3.  Touch carefully.  Avoid touching or being touched in areas usually covered by clothing.  Innocent touching leads to less innocent touching . . . fondling leads to intercourse.  Your sexual appetite, once whetted, typically wants more, not the same or less.

4.  Avoid becoming involved horizontally.  Besides avoiding sexual positions, also avoid situations in which you would lay next to someone of the opposite sex.  Sit rather than lay down to watch a movie, or if you do lay, watch the movie while laying on your stomach.

5.  Decide previously.  Determine your dating standards before you begin dating and expect them to be respected by the boys who ask you out.

Another psychologist, Dr. Richard Heaps, adds a simple triad as a guideline for avoiding premature intimacy.  He advocates that those who date should “avoid being alone together, for long periods of time, in stationary positions.  That is, . . . avoid all three conditions at the same time.”

He asserts that any dating couple – no matter their age – can avoid becoming sexually involved if only one or two of the above conditions occur in tandem.

Naturally, my advice to Lexi is based upon the principle of sexual abstinence before marriage, and it makes much less sense for those who don’t share my traditionally conservative views.

Still, any father who begins hearing distant “Sound of Music” echoes from the not too distant future is, like me, liable to begin dusting off his shotgun.  You see, I want to make Ryan more than just blush.

 

Steven M. Gentry, PhD., is a Child & Family Psychologist and the Executive Director of
Psychological Assessment & Treatment Specialists in American Fork, Utah