Protecting Our Daughters’ Virtue

Put the hay in the barn early. When she’s leaving for prom, it’s too late.

We’ve reached that time of year when we start seeing cringetastic prom photos. Don’t get me wrong. Most prom photos are lovely, but we will inevitably see photos of young couples dressed up in their promenade finery, with the young lady’s father standing between or menacingly behind them with a brandished firearm. //insert: facepalm.jpg//

I know these photos are intended to be funny, but honestly they’re mostly just super awkward and cringey. A pudgy, middle-aged, white collar suburbanite man trying really hard to act tough, with or without guns, and intimidate a 17-year-old who is interested in his daughter is just painful, and doesn’t communicate what the dad thinks it does. Aside from the fact that it makes gun-owning dads seem unhinged (Are you really gonna shoot some kid if your daughter decides to make out with him in the back seat after prom?), it misses the point on what it means to be a father to a daughter and how you can really protect a daughter’s virtue. Instead of trying to prepare the world for our daughters, we need to prepare our daughters for the world.

There’s an expression in Texas about “putting the hay in the barn” that means “doing the work.” When it comes to the work of raising a daughter who is prepared for the world, and teenage boys, and all the other potentially precarious stuff out there, the hay should be in the barn long before prom night.

Good Teenagers are Made in Grade School

When I was a young dad, I remembered that back when I hit puberty, my parents suddenly became idiots in my estimation. This opinion of my parents wisdom held until I was grown, and I actively resisted listening to their guidance for a long time. So I decided, “Whatever I want to teach my kids, I better do it before they hit puberty.” Then, in talking to one of my sisters who is a child psychologist, she taught me that certain macro aspects of a kid’s personality are locked in before they even start kindergarten. I made a mental note that I needed to cultivate the traits and virtues I wanted my kids to have as adults early and often, before they began to solidify themselves and tune me out to a degree as they sought their own view of the world.

With my daughter, I focused on most of the same virtues I’d taught her older brothers, but was also mindful of the unique problems I’d seen young women encounter in life. One of the biggest problems I wanted to guard against was a propensity for tolerating toxic men and toxic relationships. I observed that many of my friends who struggled excessively with toxic relationships had problems with self-esteem and insecurity, had their entire self-image wedded to their relationships, and lacked healthy relationship models growing up. I also observed that once she was a teenager, the more I tried to control her relationships, the more likely she would be to fight me over it and do exactly that which I wanted her to avoid.

Self-Esteem is Earned. Help Them Learn to Earn It.

So I set out to do a few things, starting when my daughter was literally three years old, that would make it unnecessary for me to have to pose with a gun in a prom photo to protect her from predatory teenage boys. The first was to cultivate in her a high degree of self-esteem and self-image. Both of these are earned, and so it was important to give her opportunities to challenge herself and prove to herself that she deserved self-respect. Spending years finding activities she enjoyed, such as math, sports, and art, then providing her challenges and a healthy balance of praise and constructive criticism, enabled her to find and cultivate that value in herself. Athletics was particularly beneficial in teaching her to celebrate her body for what it could do, as opposed to valuing her body for how it looked, as Instagram and other sources might do.

Let’s speak plainly: Even otherwise decent teenage boys are horny dirtbags. Horny teenage boys will beg and plead and cajole and even manipulate to try to achieve their horny aims. The way to combat the near immutable nature of teenage boys isn’t to try to creepily intimidate them with my firearms. Our foggy memories of our own teenage youth should remind us that reasonable fear will have faded by the time we’re in the car in a dark parking lot hours later. Instead, try from early childhood to raise a young woman who is secure and confident in who she is, who will make good choices, and will call out and shut down feeble, manipulative attempts to get her to do things she doesn’t want to do. Regarding the possibility of truly coercive scumbags, I’ve spent considerable time schooling my daughter up on the warning signs and red flags of that type of guy, so as to hopefully avoid such an eventuality altogether. I’ve also ensured she is sufficiently schooled in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other methods of convincing the coercive type that she is more trouble than he wants to deal with.

Your Kids Aren’t Listening. They’re Watching.

The other essential aspect of “protecting my daughter’s virtue on prom night” had to with modeling relationships for years and years before prom comes around. We can tell our kids what’s right or how to act all day, but they’re watching us and what they see us do will be the lesson they learn the best. I can tell my daughter all her life how she should expect to be treated by boys and men, but that’s not what’s going to shape her expectations. Instead, she’s going to learn by how I treat her. Just as much, or perhaps even more, she’s going to learn by how I treat her mom. So I tried my entire life to treat her with gentleness and earnest respect, considering her feelings even as I parented her and gave her reasonable boundaries. I’ve always tried to treat her mom how I would like a young man to treat her one day, so her concept of ideal romantic relationships is a healthy one.

One of the best side effects of this approach is that reminding myself that my kids are always watching, and will likely imitate what they see, has made me a better husband than I might have been otherwise. Men, don’t lead your kids with mere talk. Lead your kids in deed. Lead by example, every day, throughout their lives. There is nothing more powerful than your example. Use it wisely.

Prom Night Is Here For Me, Too…

This weekend is my daughter’s junior prom. She is going with a group of friends, both young gentlemen and ladies, but even if she had a traditional prom date I wouldn’t be in the background with a gun. I know her friends well and have a solid enough relationship with them that overt intimidation wouldn’t be necessary. Her mother and I have spent the last 17 years putting in the work, every single day, to make sure she is the kind of young woman who will make good choices, is sufficient in character, confidence, and toughness to enforce those choices, and understands what healthy romance looks like. Thanks to her receptiveness to our efforts, she is an incredible, high-character young woman, possessing good judgment. We couldn’t be more proud of her, and she has earned our trust. We don’t protect our daughters on prom night through our actions before they leave for the evening. We protect our daughters on prom night, or any other night, through a lifetime of investment in them and helping them become their best, wisest, and most capable selves. There is no need for me to panic or scramble at the last minute to prevent some kind of impending disaster on prom night. The hay is in the barn. The work is already done, because I started a long, long time ago.

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