Sex can be difficult for a father and daughter to discuss, but today’s fathers absolutely must talk frankly with their daughters.
It’s a far cry from the exhilaration of holding that new, innocent baby girl when “Daddy’s Princess” enters puberty and emerges a woman. Girls’ emotional development lags behind physical maturity during that time. Girls are most in need of their father’s candor and openness at this crucial junction as they begin dating, exploring their sexuality, their sense of relationships and where and how they fit in. Yet this is the time fathers seem to back away from deep conversations.
Even the most engaged fathers don’t understand the credibility they have with their daughters in these years—typically more than mothers during this time. While it is not unusual for a teen to exclude parents from decision making, fathers can use their credibility and believability advantage to give his daughter important gifts.
The gifts of these five simple models go far towards keeping girls safe through high school and college years, and will serve them well navigating mature relationships in their adult life.
- Show her how she should expect to be loved and treated by a partner in how you love and treat your partner. Being present, compassionate, considerate and openly loving towards your partner will model healthy interactions that no therapy or friend can. Even if you are divorced, respecting her other parent is powerful.
- Don’t tolerate bad or inappropriate behavior in your peers, especially if they mistreat their intimate partners. Addressing issues here, she’ll see abusive behavior is never warranted and is unacceptable.
- Heed your “Early Warning Detection System.” Acknowledge and empower her “EWDS.” Like the crash prevention systems on new cars, help her understand red flags in relationships and how to put on the brakes before she’s in too deep. Teach her to be discerning in her friendships and relationships by not giving blanket trust. Share how you know who and when to trust. Leave the door open to come to you if she questions experiences that involve mistreatment or possible abuse.
- Share your impressions of others. In doing so, you encourage her to tune into and follow her own gut feelings about people. We do and should judge others based on their interactions with us and others. Help her trust bad feelings. Not everyone has good intentions, and she must be aware what that looks like for her own safety.
- Talk candidly about sex with your teen or college-age daughter. Encourage her to share her own feelings about it, help her understand what men who will genuinely care about her think about it and how to diminish situations that put her in a vulnerable position which could limit her options to keep herself safe (such as drinking/partying, heading out solo with acquaintances). Give her accurate information to make rational, informed decisions about with whom and in what circumstances she will have sex.
Despite recent well-publicized cases, many young women simply don’t understand that perpetrators of sexual assault typically blend seamlessly into the environment and may even be very popular. Two thirds of rapes are perpetuated by someone known to the victim.
Those who sexually assault and those who abuse share many common tactics, including:
- Observation: Watching their victims, deciding which ones are vulnerable.
- Preying on Vulnerabilities: Perhaps she is a rule-follower, has been taught she shouldn’t be impolite, or is a “life of the party” girl who is drunk and compromised.
- Instant Friends: “Me, too!” Immediately agreeing they have things in common to get her to let her guard down; assuming an intimacy that hasn’t been established.
- Name Dropping: Inferring close relationships with people, whereas others may only know someone as an acquaintance or have just “seen them around.”
- Coercion: “Oh, come on, it’s just one beer, you’ll be fine; you’re safe with me….”
- Challenging Her Reality: Directly challenging her reluctance or resistance by making her question her judgment and gut feelings; twisting her viewpoint ever so slightly so she rationalizes away her doubts.
- Separation: Attempting to separate her from the crowd or her friends who may provide a more realistic viewpoint of a sexual aggressor’s motives. Many young women have a false sense of security that if they are with another friend when they leave a group setting like a party with an acquaintance, they are safe. Some feel they can protect a girlfriend by accompanying her elsewhere (for example, with a strange guy or group of partiers), further compromising their own safety.
While there are no guarantees, candid two-way conversations initiated by fathers are paramount in encouraging safe, healthy relationships for their daughters. Ultimately, fathers go a long way in reinforcing their daughter’s self-awareness, self-confidence, self-assurance and self-trust.
The knowledge that their father chooses to take an active role in their life can open avenues of conversation that will affect how daughters interact with the world around them for the rest of their lives.
So, Dad, give now; give often.