My 12-year-old daughter said the "B" word.
No, not that one. The other one that has the same effect of stopping you in your tracks: Boyfriend. She would like permission to start dating.
[Insert heavy sigh here.]
OK, at this age, it's completely expected. Although I am not ready for this phase to happen just yet, I do accept that it is a normal part of a tween's young life.
It sort of reminds me of being a homeowner. I love having a house. The thing about having a house, though, is that at any given time, my dream home could become a nightmare if a pipe were to suddenly burst. The thought, alone, makes me cringe, but I recognize that it comes with the territory, and the only thing I can do is prepare for the possible damage that may or may not happen.
When I was her age, I wasn't given dating advice. I wasn't warned about the "bad boys." Even though my mother had been through some major life experiences, including domestic violence, she wasn't much of the sharing type. Maybe she thought I was learning via observation. If so, she was correct in her assumption. I did follow in some of her footsteps which, unfortunately, were not down the right path.
Those fails ultimately led me to figure out what it meant to have a healthy relationship on my own. What I needed to avoid and to look for, how to be happy and love myself and most importantly, that love requires work. Hard work. It took me a long time to get that.
I wish those lessons had come from my mother, but they didn't. And that's no fault of hers. She couldn't teach me what she wasn't taught herself. I know in my heart my mother did her best raising me, but this history isn't one I'm going to repeat.
I want to arm my daughter with as much information as I can before she has her first official boyfriend.
Even though middle school dating is not quite the same as the real thing, I need to take a proactive stance for her sake. Dating violence is very scary and very real, and I don't want to wait for her to get involved with someone who may be harmful to her, whether emotionally, verbally or physically. I don't want to freak her out, but I do want to educate her about what dating should and should not be.
So, after a few discussions with my husband, he and I came up with a plan. The goal isn't to overwhelm her. We want to have good and open conversations with her. We want her to ask questions, and we want the information to resonate with her before Mr. Right Now appears (hopefully, he'll make a few wrong turns before he does).
The five steps we devised for her to complete before she can enter the dating scene are as follows:
1. Understand and acknowledge your self-worth.
True self-worth among adolescent girls, in my opinion, is scarce. With social media giving instant gratification, the validation our girls receive instills a false sense of confidence. My daughter has to be the source of feeling good about herself, and this should not be dependent on how many likes a photo of hers gets.
2. Ask yourself why.
She has to be honest as to why she wants to be in a relationship. Is it for status? Attention?
Of course, at her young age, these questions may be difficult for her to answer, but it's worth investigating the true motivation for her sudden need to have a boyfriend. The dating pool is filled with people who have good and bad intentions. Her reasoning to date should be pure, not tainted with selfishness.
She will have dating research assignments on looking up various topics surrounding relationships. Personality types, fantasy love vs. real love, and boundaries are examples of the top items on the list for her to research. This crash course of Relationship 101 will be flexible on the deadlines, but not on reporting back to me on her findings.
4. Put it all together.
Like a mad scientist, she is going to create the ideal boyfriend based on what she has gathered from her research. She will mock up and present what a good guy looks like to her. The goal here is to see what she has learned and what qualities she thinks are important to have in a partner.
And, of course, if her model ends up looking like Frankenstein, she'll be sent back to the drawing board.
5. Set boundaries and know when to choose yourself.
Naturally, she is a loving and giving girl. That's what I love most about her, but that could also leave her vulnerable to be taken advantage of. Reminding her that it's alright to say no and to put herself first will not only aid in boosting her confidence, but will give her the ability to know when to draw the line.
I am fortunate to have a daughter who shares as much as she does with me. While she is still communicating with me (you know, before the teen takes over), there is no better time than now to teach her about the highs and lows of dating. I don't want it to get too heavy, but I definitely want to ensure she grasps the basic concepts involved.
Obviously, I know I can't save my daughter from everything. When she starts dating, it's a given that her heart will be broken more than once. What I am able to do is guide her and do my best to protect her from trusting the wrong person.
I can't guarantee that she'll always have good relationships, but doing this is as close to an insurance policy that I can get.
This article was originally published at BlogHer. Reprinted with permission from the author.