For those of you fathers out there who are lucky enough to have young daughters, know that the inevitable will come: at some point your sweet little nine-year-old girl will want to start dating boys.
Yes, that means she will want to go to the movies with boys, meet boys at the mall, go to the library to "study" with boys, not to mention go to parties, school dances and night clubs with boys. It's an inevitable fact of life that we as fathers are going to have to face. Yet, the very thought of it makes me queasy.
Consider these hard-hitting facts for just a moment:
• 40.9 per cent of girls 14 to 17 years old have unwanted sex, primarily because they fear that their boyfriends will get angry.
• 11.9 per cent of females will be raped.
• 46.7 per cent of students (girls and boys) will be sexually active before high school ends.
• Engaging in sex puts young girls in higher risk of depression.
• One in five Americans over the age of 12 tests positive for genital herpes.
I'm not a squeamish person by any means, but these dire facts pulled from a book that I'm reading entitled Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Dr. Meg Meeker, make me realize that I have to do something to protect my pre-teens from a very toxic world that they will be exposed to.
So how can I as a dad be proactive against a world where modern pop-culture causes girls to see themselves as a sexual objects and packages love as something from a vending machine where you put your money in, get what you want and throw the rest out?
Now I admit that I had been lamenting this problem on and off for a few years with no real answer. Then one day as my wife and I sat at a restaurant for dinner, I noticed at the table nearby a well-dressed gentleman in his late 50s and his nicely dressed granddaughter, who must have been in her very early teens. When I pointed out the quaint scene to my wife, she casually mentions how nice it is to see a grandfather on a "date" with his granddaughter.
All of a sudden it occurred to me. The answer to my question is simply to "date" my daughter.
It's that simple and it makes perfect sense! As fathers, we are what stands between our daughters and a very toxic world, so why not be the standard by which she rates and compares other boys against? This is something that we could be proactive in. By formally "dating" my daughter, I would not only set the expectation of how she should be treated by future suitors, but she will know immediately when she's being pressured into things that any father would disapprove of.
Now keep in mind, all that mind-forming won't happen in one single "date." For those memories to be used as a benchmark, your dates need to be a reoccurring event that begins when she is around eight-years-old until who knows when. If you are lucky, you and your daughter will have dates well into your 50s!
Currently, my daughter is nine and at that age I found certain things work well for me:
• Plan to have one date a month that is scheduled weeks in advance so she'll anticipate it as a special father-and-daughter-only event. Schedule it in your iPhone or Outlook Calendar if you must.
• Wear something special like a tie and jacket. Suggest that she does the same so that it's very obvious that you see that event as important.
• Bring her flowers or a special treat before you go.
• Before you leave, mention to her and to your wife that you intend to have her home at a specific time. (This will get her used to having a curfew, and she will almost expect that from boys in the future.)
• Go to a nicer restaurant than you would usually go. I wouldn't suggest McDonald's.
• Talk and chat about things that are important in her world. Her friends, music she likes, school, etc.
• For that two hours or so, focus exclusively on her as though she's the only person left in the world. Try to avoid reading email or texting on your iPhone during that time.
• At the end of the dinner, order dessert and let her choose whatever she wants.
• Before you walk in the house, stop and ask her if she had a good time and if she'd like to go on a date with you again.
Sure, some aspects sound rather silly and may be a bit mundane for you -- a busy and tired dad who probably had a long day at the office. However, I assure you if you consistently spend the time and effort to regularly date daughter, you will not only keep her from being one of the above mentioned statistics, but you will help your little girl develop a strong and confident woman who knows how to be properly treated by men. Not only will that stay with her for the rest of her life, but she will know what values to instill onto her sons. You will become the most important man in her life forever.
Dr. Meg Meeker, on this topic, sums it up perfectly:
"When she is 25, she will mentally size her boyfriend or husband up against you. When she is 35, the number of children she has will be affected by her life with you. When she is 75, how she faces her future will depend on some distant memory of time you spent together. Be it good or painful, the hours and years you spend with her will change who she is now and who she will become."
And that, gentlemen, is what I believe to be the true value of "dating" your daughter.