Daddy’s Little Girl: How Parents’ Protective Instincts Can Hurt Teen Girls

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Will and Willow SmithIt’s a sentiment that’s expressed literally all the time. How often have you heard about some father freaking out over his little girl starting to date? There’s the dad sitting home with the shotgun, reminding some scared teenage boy about curfew.

The latest celebrity to speak out about not letting his daughter date until she’s a grown adult is Will Smith. I have to admit, I’m surprised to see such an open and straight-forward father sound so protective of a daughter that he has allowed to thrust herself in the spotlight. But I guess parenting a mini-pop star doesn’t keep a dad from saying things like, “When Willow does bring a boy home, I’m going to screen him and find out everything about him. And that’s going to happen when she’s 40, when she’s allowed to go on dates!”

The father-of-three also found time to clarify that it was only his daughter who he was so worried about. He explained the difference between the genders like this: “Having two boys and a girl, I realize that boys take trouble to other people’s houses, and girls bring it home.” I’m not sure exactly what he means there, but I think we can assume that the Smith boys are allowed to date before they’re old enough for a mid-life crisis.

I don’t want to just pick on Will Smith, because he’s simply reiterating what thousands of fathers before him have said over and over again:  girls need to be protected from boys. And you know what? That’s a dangerous message for teens of both genders.

Before a teen ever considers a romantic relationship, they’re told over and over again that girls are innocent and naive, while boys are out-of-control and ruled by their hormones. We set up the aggressor-victim dichotomy for these kids before they ever get a chance to experience what a relationship feels like. We make it the girl’s (and her father’s) job to protect her innocence, instead of a boy’s job to control him impulses. And we tell every girl who might be equally hormonal or sexually curious that she’s wrong or unnatural.

No matter how much a parent’s instinct tells them to “protect” their little girl, that shouldn’t be our focus. Should we educate out young ladies about sex, relationships, hormones and all that comes with romance? Of course we should. We should talk to them about teen dating, how to set up boundaries and why it’s important to make your choices for yourself, instead of letting anyone else pressure you. But we should also be having those conversations with our young boys. Even more, we should support all of our teens to make their own decisions, instead of attempting to control their love lives from behind the scenes.

We should not act as if a teenage girl needs to be virginal and pure to stay in her father’s good graces. We shouldn’t continue the seriously damaging stereotype that teen boys are unable of controlling themselves.

In fact, when it comes to teens and sex, I think the more we respect their decisions and their intelligence, the better off they’ll be. My own mother never tried to “protect me” or lock me away and it gave me the confidence to wait until I was positive that I was ready for sex.

It may seem like a cute bit of protectiveness from fathers, but the idea that they need to protect their little girls from romance is a damaging one, both to the girls who are told that they aren’t capable of making decisions for themselves and to the boys who are told that they’re sex-fueled monsters simply because they’re attracted to someone. The real way to protect your daughter from the dangers of teen sex is to build up her self-esteem and respect her decision-making abilities. It will help her navigate the teen dating adventure and it will help her treat boys as partners, instead of potential threats.

(Photo: People)