I am the father of two wonderful teen girls. Over the past 15 years, I’ve occasionally heard well-meaning, but old-fashion clichés such as, “Two girls? Watch out dad! Better have the shotgun ready!” I find this type of advice to be sexist. I trust my girls to carry their own metaphorical shotguns.
I strive to help them feel empowered. I trust they will try to apply common sense, and of course I know they will make mistakes. For years I’ve been contemplating what kind of dating advice I might give them when they’re old enough. I hope to impart self-confidence, and give them some advice that will help guide them as they begin to navigate the fraught waters of adolescent sexuality.
I acknowledge that the following advice may be more frank than some parents are comfortable with. I wrestled with the decision to publish what is fundamentally personal material. Before I shared it with my daughters, I sought feedback from a few parents of their BFFs. I didn’t want my kids to share it with their friends, without first having vetted it with some fellow parents. I received positive feedback, and some encouragement to publish it. So here’s the first (and possibly only) installment of “Advice From Dad” for my two wonderful daughters.
Installment 1Hello my darlings,
You are both old enough that I want to start a dialogue about some adult topics that we haven’t discussed much in the past. I’ve been working on articulating these first few topics over the summer, and I think they’re ready to share now.
Boys don't take hints very well
- Boys are very dense. Sometimes you might feel like you are being ridiculously obvious, yet a boy is still just not getting the message. You can try hinting in very blatant ways, but remember, sometimes you have to hit a boy in the head with a brick (figuratively!) before he will understand you. No matter how obvious, hints might not get the job done. This can be humorous or frustrating when you are trying to give a boy a hint that you like him. It can also be very scary and serious if you are trying to give a boy the hint that you don’t like him, or that you changed your mind. Remember, you can never be too blunt with a boy. If a boy is ever having trouble remembering that “no means no,” give him a snap and ask him, “Didn’t you even graduate Kindergarten?!”
You are who you choose to be
- There are many gender stereotypes that boys may try to live up to and which they may expect you to live up to. There is nothing inherently wrong with gender stereotypes, but nobody is obligated to conform to them. Stereotypes are beguiling, because they generally emerge from a truth, but they do not capture the nuances of real human beings. A dictionary definition: “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” The trick is to find boys that you like for who they are, and who like you for who you are. It is often hard for young adults to figure out their own individuality. That’s a big part of what adolescence and young-adulthood are about. Feel free to experiment with adopting and rejecting aspects of stereotypes until you figure out what fits. For example, it’s okay for you to ask a boy out, despite the gender stereotype that boys ask girls out. You may enjoy being asked out too, but don’t forget: boy…brick…head.
You can always change your mind
- You are allowed to change your mind as often as you like. Some boys can be self-centered and manipulative, and may try to pressure you into things you aren’t ready for. Remember the brick in the head? Don’t forget that you might have to be very assertive with a boy if he is too pushy. If you ever decide you want to stop, he needs to stop. Regardless of what you were doing before you decided to stop, you don’t owe anybody anything. No matter what kind of guilt trips your partner may try on you, stick up for yourself. Oh, and if it ever comes up, there is no such thing as “blue balls”. If he claims there is, tell him to Google it or, better yet, to come talk to me about it.
Sexual violence is not about sex
- I hope this particular point is advice you never need, but there is the possibility that you could encounter sexual violence. I don’t want to dwell on this one much, because I hope the chances of this happening to you are very low, but I do want to emphasize that sexual violence is not about sex. People who commit it are sad, sick people that do not have power in the rest of their lives. Victims of sexual violence are not to blame. While it is quite normal for victims to feel some shame or guilt, there actually is nothing shameful about it. Women are incredibly strong and resilient. Always remember: I love you no matter what.
- You are going to see pictures and video portraying adult sexuality (aka erotica, pornography, porn, or porno). It’s a pretty good bet that you’ve seen some of it already. Some people have negative associations with the word, porn. Merriam-Webster defines porn as, “The depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.“ This is the sense in which I use it, without any negative connotation intended. What you need to know about porn is that a disproportionate amount of it is not created to appeal to women and girls. Porn and the people who watch it, act in it, produce it, etc., are not inherently bad. There’s no shame in being curious about it. Just be aware that you are likely to encounter porn that you don’t like, is disturbing, or might even be violent or degrading towards some of the actors. If you ever encounter porn that makes you feel uncomfortable, turn it off. Remember that most porn caters to a male sexual preference or fetish. It is being acted out by consenting adults who are involved willingly. It is very illegal to produce (or even watch) porn that is not created by consenting adults, so you are not likely to ever encounter anything like that. Remember, if you ever don’t like what you see, turn it off. If you ever see an image that really disturbs you, and you are having trouble “unseeing” it, please talk to someone you can trust about it.
Communicate and have fun
- On the topic of porn, it’s also likely that the boys you like will have formed a lot of superficial ideas about what they think sex “should” be like from watching porn. The main thing wrong with this (as compared to past decades when porn was not so ubiquitous) is that they may fool themselves into thinking they are actually knowledgable about what women enjoy, based strictly on porn. Not likely! Again, back to the brick in the head; this means you might have to be very explicit, and teach boys what a real human young woman thinks is sexy and feels good. Don’t stand for a partner who is doing something that doesn’t feel good. Believe it or not, it might not feel good for them either! Communicate. Have fun. If there is discomfort or anxiety, you’re doing it wrong!
- Use common sense, and always protect yourself: both emotionally and from STDs and unwanted pregnancy. If you choose to engage in adult behavior, you need to take adult responsibility.
I will always love you
- While the advice I’m writing here is about boys and girls, that’s because I was once a boy, and you are girls. Most of this advice still applies for girls and girls, and boys and boys. I hope it’s obvious, but if you end up liking girls more than boys, that is nothing to be ashamed of.