Recently, a friend told me about me the funny T-shirts her husband and his brothers received at a family event.
"They said Dads Against Daughters Dating," she said, giggling. All the men who received the shirts, including her husband, were fathers of teenage girls.
I couldn't even fake amusement at this. What kind of antiquated message were they hoping to send here? You can't be trusted, so I'm putting up a wall between you and boys? Maybe, boys can't be trusted, so I'm denying them access to you? Or: Some boys can't be trusted, but my daughter lacks the judgment to figure that out on her own?
Alas, my friend just thought the message was cute.
I spent my formative dating years under my parents' roof. That my date had to come to the door to pick me up wasn't negotiable. It was awkward to warn my dates about this, but it gave me practice speaking up about what I needed. When my heart was inevitably broken, I cried to my mom at the kitchen table. When a date wasn't going as expected, I called my dad to come pick me up.
My family helped shape my dating standards and gave me the confidence to stick to them. Then they supported me as I tried them out in real life.
As the mom of two teenage boys who have been relentlessly schooled on how to give and expect respect in their relationships, it breaks my heart to think that a potential date's dad already views my boys as the enemy.
"When you make a statement like Dads Against Daughters Dating, you create fear and shame around normal teenage romantic impulses," says Ana Homayoun, an educator and author of parenting books. "If you're not allowing kids the opportunities to practice interacting with people they're attracted to, you're denying them the opportunity to develop healthy relationship skills."
Jean Twenge, author of "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood," points out that a dad who attempts to prevent his daughter from dating may be missing the teaching moment.
"As you know, iGen teens are much less likely to date than previous generations were," Twenge tells me. "This has many advantages — for example, they are also less likely to have sex as high school students. The potential downside, however, is they might arrive at college with little experience with romantic relationships and even less experience with face-to-face social interaction overall."
Homayoun echoes this point: "If you're sending your child away to college without those skills, they're going to learn the hard way — and usually in the presence of alcohol," she warns. "That's when kids look toward compensatory behaviors because they don't possess the skills to conduct a normal relationship. They compensate for their insecurity by interacting only through a screen, or through the haze of a party or under the influence."
Twenge adds that when teens conduct the early stages of relationships online rather than in person, "it can place a lot of emphasis on physical appearance, particularly for girls."