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Age Gap in Teen Relationships

Should You Let Your Teen Date Someone Older?

If there's one thing that causes parents of teens stress, it's their adolescents' romantic relationships. Circle of Moms member Tina H. says what's causing her the most angst is the fact that her 16-year-old daughter wants to date an 18-year-old. "How much age difference is OK for teens?" she asks.

This is a sticky issue, and one that has many Circle of Moms members split over what's acceptable and what's not. Some say maturity and compatibility will take care of all differences. Others maintain that even a one-year age gap should be strictly forbidden in the teen-dating arena. Here, Circle of Moms members share different opinions on whether a hard line should be drawn on age difference, and if so, where. 

Keep reading.

Consider Maturity Level and Meet in Person

One of the first factors moms should consider before deciding whether you approve of your child's dating relationship is how mature both the boy and girl are, says Circle of Moms member Louise M. "I think it's about the maturity," she relays, recommending that parents meet the person their son or daughter is dating to decide if both of them have enough maturity to handle the relationship. "If you meet him and decide he is wonderful, she should be allowed to date him," she says.


Theresa J. agrees with a meet-the-parents approach. "Is she willing to let you meet him before she could date him? That was a rule in my house growing up. I didn't have a problem with it. I know kids don't think it's cool to hang out with the parents, but maybe he could come over for dinner and board games so that you could get to know him. It may help you decide if he's datable in your opinion."

Rita D. adds that if you don't at least consider allowing your teen to date this older person, they may just sneak behind your back. So, when her 12-year-old daughter wanted to date a 15-year-old, she insisted he come meet the parents — her and her husband. That's when she got a good sense that despite the age difference, her daughter and the older teen guy were pretty much on the same maturity level and she felt she could relax. "Boys don't grow up as quickly as girls. At that age they are still just hanging out with other friends who also have girlfriends."

Diane C.'s situation was similar: it was the 17-year-old boy's lack of maturity that she felt put him on equal footing with her 14-year-old daughter. "My husband flat-out said no way, not happening, no discussion," she recalls. But after meeting the boy and setting a rule that there would be "no unsupervised hanging out," she agreed to let her daughter go out with the teen three years her senior. "I suspect he may be a bit immature," she adds.

Put a No-Exceptions Limit on Age Gap

Other moms, like Rita D., say to absolutely put your foot down on any age difference in teen dating. "I would not have my 13-year-old dating a 15-year-old boy," she says. "This is a discussion for 'no' discussion. I certainly would try and put a cap on it."

Kimberly P. also believes parents need to set rules on age differences for teen dating. "I would keep my 13-year-old in her age group — 13 or 14," she says. "Let her know that there will be a lot of more breakups in her life," she adds, "and that this older guy won't be the last one."

Of course, a hard-fast rule may bring resistance from your child, as Hilary B. can attest. She says she thought she had the whole teen-age-difference-for-dating issue covered. "We have always had the rule in our house your boy/girlfriend can only be one year up or down," she says. But now her 12-year-old daughter is testing her limits by dating a 15-year-old, and she's putting her foot down. "She's testing this and making me crazy," says Hilary B. "She thinks I'm being completely unreasonable and that I am the world's worst parent."

Tough love with teens is not easy under any circumstances, but mom Michelle R. speaks from experience when she says teens really do need someone to tell them to date within their age group. In her case, she forbid her 16-year-old daughter from dating an 18-year-old, pointing out that the age difference puts too much pressure on girls in particular. "Boys that are 18 are legal and they are so ready for the things that come along with being legal," she says. "Sixteen-year-old girls, mature or not, should not be bothered with that kind of pressure yet. I personally dated an 18-year-old at the age of 16, but that was because I had no one to tell me otherwise. I would advise against this two-year gap."

Do you let your teen date older or younger teens?

Join The Conversation
TheKidView TheKidView 3 years
I had very, very loose rules on this kind of thing. When I was 12 I was with, not a 15, but an almost 17 year old. We were best friends as kids, and our parents were and still are best friends, so instead of being that awkward middle school crush thing, it just kind of happened. I'm still with him by the way.
MichaelSmith1382611920 MichaelSmith1382611920 3 years
I don't mean to sound amazed but seriously I can't see what the problem is AT ALL? 18 is PERFECTLY reasonable for a 16 year old to date! It is much more relevant the general personality of this person than this mere 2 year age difference. I knew various girls dating guys in their 20's when they were 13- now that was a problem indeed!
aileen-jkelly1372079378 aileen-jkelly1372079378 4 years
you dont necessarily choose when a playdate becomes a date, my eldest daughter 13 had lots of friends who were boys and I did not want to make too much of it to make her awkward round them, she had had trouble with some other girls as she is very straightforward and in my opinion a lot of teenage girls play mind games, and then one of them was mentioned more and more and more and suddenly her best friend was her boyfriend, i did speak to his mom,he is the same age (although she is not his first girlfriend, he is her first boyfriend) i do try for supervised, they don't go out late at night, i know from her sister that they have kissed, but no more, i look at her facebook and twitter accounts (one with her knowledge one without) and if you had asked me two years ago about dating 13 year olds i would have said no way and what are you thinking of but life has a way of surprising you,
AlishaRadtke AlishaRadtke 4 years
Age liits are needed but I was 16 going on 17 when I met my husband who was 20 going on 21 and it has worked so I think it just depends on the maturity cause love does and doesn't have an age. Dating our house is 15 so pretty much high school at least that is the rule, will it be followed I have no idea as of right now. My oldest is 4 and boy crazy.
stephanireazor stephanireazor 4 years
I must be an old fashioned mom, because my 12 year old is not "dating" anyone, I don't care how old the other person is, it's a no go! In my house there is NO dating until you're at least 16, and even then it's dependent on how trust worthy you are, it's an absolute that both my husband and I will have to meet this person before any date can take place, and even then it's probably not going to happen without a chaperon until you are 18. There is no good reason that a 12 year old should be dating anyone, that irresponsible of the parents. 12 is still a child, the only "date" should be a play date.
Theresa14630327 Theresa14630327 4 years
First off part of the problem in this is why 12-13 year old girls are allowed to "date" in the first place. Why did we as mothers ever let the must be 16 rule go? I think 14 is as young as I would accept with supervision. Second all I do is remember back to when I was that age. What worked or didn't work with my parents rules and go from there, my 25 and 21 year old daughters turned out great and I'm not doing a thing different with my 14 and 7 year old daughters.
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