Working with teenage girls, there’s a lot of things I worry about because the teenage years are so perplexing, especially with teenage girls who are often searching for a sense of belonging to the point that they are willing to starve themselves, cut themselves out of pain and shame, sleep with boys just to feel wanted, and sadly, even attempt to take their own lives when they feel as if they don’t and will never belong.
This search for belonging, often sends teenage girls into unhealthy relationships that further damage their self-esteem and often expose them to other damaging factors such as unprotected sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.
During the teenage years, young people are trying to come into their own and often rebel against their parents and other adults, which is why they often chose friends and relationships that their parents disapprove of, including dating older men.
I hate when I am working with a teenage girl and she tells me she is dating an older man, usually because I know that this relationship, while to her may be idyllic and dreamy, is more often a disaster waiting to happen on so many levels.
Recently a client of mine who is 17, started dating a 23 year old man, and while the age difference isn’t drastic, one has to think, what would a 23 year old man who could date anyone 18 and up, want with a 17 year old high school student? Did someone say sex? Of course they had a lot of that, often unprotected, but luckily she never got pregnant although she hasn’t gotten tested for any sexually transmitted diseases. I told her when she initially talked about him pursuing her, his reason was that there aren’t any girls 21 and up that were “cool”, that there just wasn’t something right about a man who should be on the verge of finishing college, dating someone who’s in high school.
I told her that had to say something about his motives, personality, etc., but of course she didn’t see this as a red flag, but was instead flattered that someone who could date anyone his age or older, chose to date her. After several months of bliss and sex, he started treating her badly and her moods were very erratic, varied by however they were doing at the moment. If they were good, she was happy, going to class, doing good. If he was ignoring her, she was depressed, missing class, consumed with anxiety.
Eventually he left her for a woman his own age and that should have been the end of it, but now she is talking about dating his OLDER brother who is married with a kid, but text messaged her one night at 3Am, “I think you are so sexy, and I’ve been fantasizing about you”, from his wive’s phone nonetheless. Once again, all bad signs, but she’s an emotional, hormonal, vulnerable, teenager trying to belong so she see’s this as another challenge.
Why Do Teenage Girls Date Older Men?
Some of the reasons include genuine chemistry. Chemistry doesn’t know have rigid age boundaries so there is a chance that there are genuine feelings there. Another reason includes greater financial and physical independence, which for a young teenage girl looking for independence, an escape from her family or surroundings, is very appealing. Also, older men are considered more mature and experienced in all aspects of life which is attractive to a young girl, especially one looking to escape her life.
The thing is, teenager girls often don’t realize just how unequal the relationship with an older man usually is. Usually the older man has more power simply from the fact that he is older, and they usually have more money and resources than the teenager or her friends. This takes her out of being equal, especially when it comes to making decisions, and because he is older, she will often get dictated to and assume that he is right or knows best. Also, because he will typically have more money than her and her peers, it will be easy for him to impress her by doing simple things such as taking her to the movies, a fastfood restaurant, picking her up from school or buying her a t-shirt or shoes.
Having an older boyfriend also becomes a status symbol, a way for the teenage girl to say that she is already grown-up and part of the adult world. She is no longer a child like her peers. Because of this, it may make it easier for her to start neglecting things like her peers and school work. After all, why should she worry about passing a chemistry test when her boyfriend is worried about paying his rent or losing his job. School and friends may start seeming childish in comparison to her boyfriend’s problems.
Teenage girls also often date older men to rebel against their parents, and the more the parents fight against it, the more likely the boyfriend is seen as an allie and will help begin to alienate her from her parents, under-minding their decisions and further breaking apart her support system, while strengthening his hold and isolating her.
Consequences of Dating Older Men
There are not only psychological risks involved with dating an older man and trying to fit into an adult world precociously, there are also dangers of being exposed to drugs, alcohol, abuse, and an increase rate of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Young teenage girls who contract sexually transmitted diseases often get them from older boyfriends. Older men usually have had more sexual experience that often include risky sexual behaviors. The young teenage girl is not likely to question his sexual behavior or health status, and even if she did, she is likely to take his word for it instead of asking him to go get tested with her.
Teenage girls who date older men are more likely to get pregnant than teenage girls who date same age males for several reasons:
- Older men seem to expect the teenage girl to take responsibility for contraceptive and often will use none if not asked.
- Teenage girls today are less likely to use birth control compared to women in the past.
- Teenage girls may actually want to get pregnant for several reasons. See my post Young, Poor and Pregnant.
- An older man may actually not care if he gets the younger girl pregnant or may do so on purpose for control.
One study done by the California Center for Health reports that the average age of the fathers who got a 12 year old pregnant was 19.7, and a 13 year old pregnant was 17.2.
What To Do If Your Teenage Daughter Is Dating An Older Man
First of all, don’t freak out. Doing so may just push your daughter further into his arms. Try to talk to your daughter, express your concerns. Let her know that you only have her best interests at heart. She may still rebel and insist on seeing him, so don’t be afraid to lay down and enforce rules while she is still under 18, living in your house and going to school. Most of these relationships usually fizzle out if the teenager is allowed to come into her own in a healthy way, but often not before she is scarred in someway. A lucky few end up in marriage, which is often proceeded by a child and continues with multiple children, poverty, physical and substance abuse.
Try talking to the boyfriend. Let him know that if he really cares about her, he will abide by your wishes since you only have her best interest in mind and he should too if he cares about her. Depending on the age of your daughter and the age of the man, it may be appropriate to get law enforcement involved. Most of the teenage girls I work with who are dating older men are seeking something they feel like they aren’t getting from home, and while it may seem impossible to please your ever changing and complex teenager, try to talk with her, listen to and understand her. Otherwise, she will search for and find someone or something else to attach herself too.