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At what age should girls start dating?

My writing buddy Nina Funnell and I have spent a busy week doing media for our new book Loveability – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships. A highlight for me was speaking to the exceptional Natasha Mitchell on ABC’s Life Matters – you may listen to the interview here. 

Interestingly, the majority of the interviews we did seemed focused on determining at what age parents should allow their children to date. Case in point – this segment on channel 9’s Mornings:

 

The facts? Whether we like it or not, as I state in the interview above ( and teen Jordie confirms) young people are forming relationships at a younger and younger age and trying to ban these only contributes to secrecy. Further, young people spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about relationships so we must ensure warm, wise, realistic and accessible advice is offered early.

Nina recently explained why setting blanket bans and stigmatising all relationships as being potentially dangerous is unhelpful:

“Instead of treating the sexuality of children as something to be either feared or controlled, we need to encourage open conversations about intimacy and relationships. It is also important not to demonise young people’s sexuality or interest in these topics, as this can create stigma, anxiety and shame.

It is deeply unhelpful (for example) to teach young people that the only reason why a girl might seek out intimacy or connection is due to low self esteem and a lack of self worth. This view totally disregards the desires and natural sexual urges of young women as well as the legitimate and positive experiences they may draw from relationships.”

So – how to handle this question in a positive, realistic way?

Again, I called on Nina for she answered this question for girls in the Q&A section of our book (with a little help from our go-to psychologist Jacqui Manning)  I think they nailed it:

Q. My parents think I’m too young to start dating. How young is too young?

A. Knowing the right time to start dating isn’t so much about waiting till you turn a specific age. It’s about ‘taking the time to do it right’, according to psychologist Jacqui Manning. ‘Your early relationships can really set the scene for your love future, so having good experiences now will set you up with positive expectations from your partners forever.’

Ask your parents why they think you’re too young. Ask for their advice, and ask whether they’re comfortable to share their own experiences with you. Although some girls find it uncomfortable to talk about relationships with their parents, you can get some good tips by having an honest chat with them.

Relationships can be difficult to manage when you’re still busy learning about yourself, so don’t rush into it just because it’s what other people are doing, says Jacqui. ‘The important thing to remember is to not get swept up in another person’s idea of how the relationship should be, but to establish your own values and boundaries around what’s important to you — before you enter into a relationship. That way, you’ll have a better idea of when something doesn’t feel right.’

Before dating, think about the following questions: what kind of person do I like and what sort of qualities am I looking for in a person? What are my dating boundaries and deal breakers? What would a good relationship look and feel like to me? If, after you have put some effort into thinking about what you want, you feel self-assured enough to set boundaries in your relationships, then you may well be ready to get out there.

Nina and I have also developed a series of shareable images we have been using on Facebook and on Instagram to encourage girls into thinking more about their Relationship Deal Breakers and their Relationship Must-Haves. Feel free to download these and use them too! 

Let’s open up dialogue – not shut it down.

RRPicMonkey Collage

 

 

 

Our teen girls, our teen selves

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The diary I had when I was 14, branded “Sweet Dreams” for the teen-girl book series I loved so much.

I often say that one of the best ways to connect to teen girls is to reconnect with our own teen selves and remember how intense life was at that age.

Wow did I learn that lesson myself recently. I was packing to move house and found the diary I kept when I was 14 and in Year 8 at school. Reconnecting with 14-year-old Danni was by turns funny and shocking. Most of all, it was a reminder of why girls respond so passionately to the work Enlighten Education does — and why they need it so urgently.

My 14-year-old self was a mass of contradictions: studious and ambitious and desperate to grow up, yet childlike. Super-confident but self-critical. Sound familiar?

Here are some highlights . . .(with names changed to protect the anonymity of the friends I mention).

JANUARY

When I was a kid, I collected novelty erasers. I always thought I was about 7 when I did this but now I’ve realised I was 14. Dear God. (I still have them and get very anxious if my children want to touch them. They are kept on a high shelf in my wardrobe and shall be my legacy to the world.)

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My rubber collection. As soon as I took this photo I rushed and put it back onto the high shelf of my cupboard, where it is safe.

6th — Drove up to my Aunty’s. Tops as I got some rubbers on the way!

10th — Mum bought me a $2 Instant Lotto and I won $2! I bought 4 rubbers! Then we visited my Grandpa. God I love him. (Some things never change — my Grandpa will remain the great love of my life.)

18th — Bought some very cheap but very good rubbers.

You get the picture.

I was almost as enthusiastic in my interest in the opposite sex. Always from a distance, though.

22nd — Saw a boy at the pools. He was a spunk but he swore a lot. 🙁

There were special sections at the end of each month:

January’s Daydream: To be a psychiatrist and make everyone happy!

Goal for Next Month: To loose weight!

It saddens me to read that last entry, as I was a tiny teen. I hadn’t recalled ever worrying about my weight but I obviously did, just like most teens do now. When we ask for feedback after our workshops, girls often say things like the feedback I received from a teen girl just last week: “I stress a lot thinking I’m fat. I learnt today that I’m fine how I look, I shouldn’t care what others think and I’m not actually fat, I’m a size 10 – wow. Thanks!!” (Helen, Year 8 student)

FEBRUARY

Friendship drama ahoy!

9th — A day full of fights! Everyone reckons I said Melissa was a poser when we played hide-and-seek. Leanne had the shits with me after debating too.

10th — We made up but Melissa and Marrianne had a punch-up.

I was trying to be friends with the cooler popular girls at school, who had just “discovered” me.

Big Girl (kinda)

21st — Mum bought me my first bra! I love it!

Yet just days after the getting a bra, I say this about hanging out with my friend:

26th — We played dolls all day. Fun!

In the “Secret Valentine” section of the diary I wrote:

Although I never hang around the boys — it is Sean. God I love that guy. (I loved him? I don’t think we had spoken at this point.)

It makes me sad to read this. We did end up having one awkward pash, which was my first ever kiss. But by the time he was only in his late teens, this boy had died by suicide. I recall him as being very shy and quiet. Tragically, adolescence is a time that may mark the onset of serious depression for some young people; this reminded me to be mindful to watch for the early warning signs. Clinical Professor David Bennet’s book ” I Just Want You To Be Happy” is an outstanding resource on preventing and tackling teenage mental illness.

MARCH

Danni as the boss

13th — We decide to have a Club! It will be called The Aussie 4! We spent all day doing up the cubbie ready for it. I will be the Captain.

The rest of March seems to be almost a catalogue of fast food I loved (“We had Kentucky! Topso! I got the breast piece!” “We had McDonalds! Yummo!”), teachers I loved (“Miss Banting is tops! I love drama!”) and my marks (“A great school day ! I came first in every subject! Hoorah!”)

My goal for next month:  To be popular.

APRIL

Talent quest!

My best friend, a neighbour and my sister and I would have periodic talent quests. Although the competition could hardly be described as fierce, I was elated at my win! I danced to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and assembled all my cuddly toy animals as props. I performed this next to the fountain we had in our courtyard, for added jungle-realism. I set a very high standard for performance that day, I can assure you.

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Me (right) pre-perm at 14 with “Bubby”, my sister.

Dramatic much?

3rd — No one seems to care that I am dying of asthma! Had to go to my Aunty’s to eat Easter eggs.

6th — I think my drama teacher hates my acting lately. 🙁 (I was a star in the school play: I was Mole in Wind In the Willows. Yep, a mole. And yep, the boys did tease me but I didn’t care as I LOVED this role. Mr Mole is hilarity.)

13th — I crammed in the library for a test. I had to. I must do well or I will die.

15th — Worst day of my entire life. Leanne etc all wrote me a letter said they hate me plus they are now playing with my other friends so I have NO ONE! I don’t even know why this is happening to me!

18th — I am really disappointed with my English mark . . . 92/100.  (Disappointed??!!)

MAY

Shopping weirdness

6th — Went shopping and nearly got busted for shop-lifting. We stole breath freshener. I feel really bad now. (Breath Freshener??)

7th — Bought really large knitting needles! Will knit things! Topso!

8th — Bought Mum a spoon for Mother’s Day. Chantielle (my sister) bought her honey. (Lucky. Her!)

Favourite Daydream: To have a spunky boyfriend.

JUNE

Danni as mean girl

14th — I was so slack to Jane as I said Simon Townsend’s Wonder World is going to film my rubber collection and interview me and I will be on TV. This is a lie. She was really hurt but she forgave me luckily.

Impending doom

26th — Went to visit Grandpa. He is very vague and sick.

JULY

Yes, this was the ’80s

1st — The rich kids all went off to the ski-weekend. I talked to the boys out the front of the school with my friends today. But I don’t really talk. I just stand there like a dag.

8th — I am getting a perm. I am very worried. I HOPE it is good. Darryl Somers also wrote to me. Exciting!

9th — My perm is tops! I’m in love with it it is so nice. Everyone at school loves it.

10th — I got my mole costume today! Love it! I’m helping Jane sell Avon. I hope we make a lot of money. A girl called Christine in our grade had sex with her boyfriend Adam. I got the top mark for maths.

19th — We had a mufti-day at school and I wore really nice pink leg warmers.

23rd — We went to a disco and I met a boy named Foxy. I kissed him. I think I am in love!

24th — I think I hate that boy now. (Fickle much?)

My goal for next month: To meet some boys and to be more popular. I love, love, love boys! But none like me! And I am scared of them! Problem!

Autographed pic I received from Daryl Somers. Was I excited much?
Autographed pic I received from Daryl Somers. Quite. The. Moment.

AUGUST

A date with Foxy!

There are many entries in the lead up to this date about Foxy and what I will wear, do, say, etc. Then:

14th — Well it was BORING! We saw Porky’s 2 which was just rude. We went to Mcdonalds which was the best bit. I would have had more fun if I just went with my girls! I spent $8 on boringness! I am never dating again.

18th — I dropped Foxy (yahoo!).

And then, amongst all the expected teen girl stuff comes a disturbing entry about an incident with my father, a sometimes-violent alcoholic.

28th — Mum took me to the markets and bought me cute koala earrings. Dad got drunk and punched me for nothing! It hurt. I hate him.

SEPTEMBER

A trip to Surfers Paradise with the family. Much discussion about rides and food.

Then much despair at the fact that my teachers all think I am not focusing and am “trying to be someone I am not” with my new friends (they were right!). Friends are having sex, smoking . . .

OCTOBER

Trouble looms

No mention of rubbers or school marks this month. I would soon be in Year 9, which used to be considered a notoriously problematic time when many teens went off the rails. Unfortunately, many schools tell me these problems now start in Year 8, because girls are attempting to cope with greater pressures at a younger and younger age.

15th — Pashed Jason twice but I don’t love him or really care if we don’t get together again. Louise F nearly died as she got so drunk the cops called an ambulance. (This all happened at the “alcohol-free” Blue Light Disco the police ran for youth.)

17th — The teachers reckon Marrianne is pushing drugs which is just bull!

NOVEMBER

5th — Tops party! We all got so drunk. We all went for a bush walk and I fell and hit my head which was so funny! I cried as Jazmine went to the toilet 16 times which scared me.

12th — Jane got a hickey!

18th — I wagged school with my friends and they got drunk. I didn’t. It was actually boring. I feel really bad about this (wagging)(This was the first and last time I ever truanted school.)

21st — Saw a plastic surgeon to see if now that I’ve fully grown they can fix my arm. They can’t. ;(

I was very self-conscious about scarring on my arm and neck from severe burns I received as a child. It wasn’t until I was much older, teaching in high school, that I was okay about it.

30th — School disco is dress up. I might go as a Playboy bunny. (OH. MY. LORD!!)

What can I say except that if even I was considering dressing up as a Playboy bunny, we shouldn’t let ourselves get too carried away with despair about the culture our girls are exposed to: there is hope for everyone!

DECEMBER

A lucky escape?

15th — I am practically dying and they might even put me in hospital.

I was truly very ill all month with glandular fever. This seems to me now a stroke of luck, as it meant I stayed out of trouble.

My New Year’s Resolution?

To try VERY hard at school again and not get used by boys.

Reading back over the diary of my 14th year has truly affirmed for me the work I do now. I would have loved Enlighten. I needed Enlighten!

Think back to what life was like for you as a teen too. If you have old diaries, revisit them. What does this reflection teach you about the inner-world of teen girls? What messages do you think girls need to hear – now.

Friends

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