Dear Wes and Jenny: I read your column on "nice girls" and "bad boys" (June 21). I don't think it has anything to do with whether a guy has been known to take risks. It's the person inside and what he makes me feel like. I think a lot of parents just want to see what is on the outside. I'm having that problem with my mom. I have dated two guys living in group homes, mostly for getting in trouble with the law, and I am currently dating a guy who lives in the same group home. He respects me, loves me, cares for me and treats me just as well as a guy who would be considered a "good guy." Kids are going to make mistakes - it's human nature - but let them make them themselves. It's their way of expressing themselves, but it doesn't define who they are. It's hypocritical and judgmental, and it isn't fair for those who actually love each other to be judged like that. And have you ever heard of opposites attract? If parents say that their daughter can date at age 16, then apparently they think they are old enough to start making decisions, so why don't you let them start? You can't help who your heart chooses. Just let it be.
What can I do to get my parents off my back about my boyfriend and respect him, just as they would anyone else. - Girl in love
Wes: Because peers are so important in your psychological development, your parents have a big stake in who you get involved with, especially in intimate relationships.
Dating guys who've been in enough legal trouble to be out-placed from their homes pretty much defines a parent's worst nightmare. Most striking is that you describe your boyfriends as "good guys on the inside," despite their legal predicaments. Then you note that "kids make mistakes" and ask that your parents allow you to continue making them. By defining these relationships as mistakes, even you suggest that they may not be good for you.
I agree that it is your job to do kid things and screw up along the way. However, you forget that it is your parents' job to keep those mistakes from seriously harming you. Part of their job IS to be judgmental because you're not supposed to have good judgment until your mid-20s (no offense intended, just the realities of brain development). Unless your folks are involved in illegal activity or questionable dating practices, you can't accuse them of being hypocrites - just overly protective. And, to be fair, there is no age limit on misguided love. I see many adults habitually attracted to partners who are neither positive nor productive.
Adolescents do tend to follow their hearts toward a sort of love that is wonderful, magical, tragic and emotional. Enjoy it while it lasts, but don't get hooked on it. Growing up means realizing that the heart is not a good guide on such matters. Moreover, as you get older, you will realize that you do not FALL into love; you choose whom to love from an enormous range of possibilities.
This bit of "bad news" answers your question of how to get your parents off your back. Most patterns of adolescence change as you mature, so your interest in these relationships may be short-lived. Just avoid getting into anything you cannot easily get out of (addiction, pregnancy, school failure, early marriage, etc.). If you accept that these relationships are the product of youth, and not a developing pattern, then the folks should be able to back off. The less intense you are, the less intense they will be. The rest is up to your boyfriend. If he acts respectably, takes his problems seriously, and continues to treat you well, he may prove that his mistakes also are a product of youth. Bottom line: Don't settle. If you demand the best of yourself and your guy, you may prove that your parents have been wrong about you and him.
Jenny: My interpretation of the term "bad boys" is the type that present an attitude of not caring. There is quite a difference between boys who get into minor trouble and those who have criminal records or need to be displaced from their home situation because of their behavior. Hopefully, it is as Wes states: These patterns are those of a teen and not behavior that will follow him into adulthood. But tread lightly; the decisions you make now have consequences that you may not see until later - and they can be grave. It's tough getting grief about your boyfriends, but take this as an opportunity to reflect on yourself. Ask yourself what a nice girl is doing with boys who break the law.
Your parents are trying to take an active role in your upbringing by looking out for you. If your pattern of dating "bad boys" continues, it is their job to watch out for you and be there if you need help, so think of their criticism as constructive. You may not agree with anything they say right now, and hearing them harshly criticizing your boyfriend may be hard, but you have to understand their view of the situation. Sometimes the heart can't always see clearly, so think of your parents' badgering as them looking at your relationship from the outside.
Next week: Preparing new "sevies" for the transition to junior high.