Daughters, Boyfriends, and Terrified Dads

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

My kids, ten and eight years old, both have their first crushes. Nothing more than “playground love” and I can see why my kids are crushing on the other two individuals. I adore the other children, they are great kids with fun personalities. While all very cute, the other parents and I agree they are entirely too young for romantic love and so instead we encourage strong friendships and do not tease them about “being in love” or being boyfriend/girlfriend.

That is a much different approach than viral dad-of-the-moment John Tierney took with his four-year-old daughter. When little Grace waved at two boys as they passed the family car her father told her “not to wave at the boys “because they’re smelly” and that sparked a debate about whether she could have a boyfriend,” as reported by the Evening Times.

Their conversation goes on and we hear “Dad of the Year”, as he has been called, telling his preschool-aged daughter he will break the legs of any boyfriend, kidnap the father, and eventually force her into a convent because she will “work for Jesus.”

Mr. Tierny’s parenting skills have been praised world wide and the video has been dubbed “hilarious” by several media outlets. Most of my conservative Christian friends loved it and shared it. Most of my progressive friends were horrified by it.

As the mother to a son and a daughter, it made me ill. And angry.

Can we please stop being so fearful of and trying to deny our children’s sexuality? They are human beings, they are going to develop into sexual creatures. It is a biological truth that got them here in the first place.

Dad of the Year? No. There is a lot going on here that is undoing the healthy development of this child. Maybe it is a harmless viral video, but it is upholding several highly problematic beliefs in our society that harm children.

First, this girl is exceptionally young to be focused on boyfriends. Her father encouraging the conversation as if it is age appropriate for her is sexualization. A more empowering conversation for this child would have been to have her list all the amazing things about her she sees in herself and that her friends and family love. She needs to be her own person long before she is anyone’s girlfriend.

Building on that idea, preschool is also a vital time to encourage friendships between boys and girls. The more time they spend together and the stronger friendships they develop, the better understanding they will have for each other and the more respect they will hold for each other.

Research supports the idea of boys and girls playing together, which makes sense since boys and girls will study, work, love, and live with each other for their entire lives.

Second, I don’t like the idea of a father controlling a child’s sexuality and tying that control to violence. Violence has no place in romantic relationships, and I’d rather see a father uphold that example than perpetuate the idea men hold title over the females in their lives.

In my family we prefer a more sex positive approach, and teach our children that having crushes on people is normal but dating and boyfriend/girlfriend stuff is best left for teenagers and college kids. In the meantime, there is a lot of growing up to do. For now, boys and girls just make really good friends.

Third, a “good father” does not threaten violence upon a child, especially the child of another family. Your daughter may be a very sweet girl, but I wouldn’t want my son anywhere near a crazy family like this. I can’t recall Jesus saying anything about breaking peoples legs or holding them hostage….Maybe we should review the work Jesus actually did.

Instead, a good father might allow his daughter to speak her mind as opposed to dominating the conversation, find out what she finds attractive in another person and use that as a teachable moment to review their family’s expectations and values.

A good father would raise a child whose judgement he can trust, instead of fear and control.

A good father raises a child who wants to keep company with other awesome people and sees the boyfriend/girlfriend as another unique, special, lovable young person.

A good father would raise his sons to be young men no family with daughters has to fear.

It takes a village to raise a child, so let’s raise them well.

To the boys or girls my children will date sometime in the future – Welcome to our village. We are big fans of respect, honesty, maturity, and no texting while driving. We have rules and expectations for our children, while in their company those also apply to you. We look at you as an awesome addition to our family. Let’s take good care of each other.


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).


  1. Pamela says:

    YES!!! You continue to prove that you are my soul sister! Thank you for always being able to put my thoughts into much more eloquent ways than I can sometimes find! Wish there were more families like yours in our neighborhood for our children to be around!

  2. Thank you so much for articulating why it makes me so uncomfortable to have adults tease children about their “boyfriends” or “girlfriends”

    We don’t tease our daughter about the boys in her class. (For the record, in a 20-student class, _15_ students are boys. They’re wonderful kids.) She plays, when they’re permitted playtime (another rant), with everyone. She loves to run races, play soccer, and climb things. She’s also come home telling us that she’s going to marry one little boy when they grow up, and we’ve used that as a way to start a conversation about why she likes the boy and how it’s OK to just be friends – you can be just friends with a boy without having to get married (or whatever) because 6 is too young to get married. (Etc.)

    When a friend’s husband asked her if she had a “boyfriend” at a get-together this past December, she actually didn’t know what he was asking! I helped her figure out an answer that evaded the question but I’ve now got more tools to explain why it made me feel so squicky. And some ideas on how to empower her to answer for herself. =)

    It’s related to why I find my sister and sister-in-law’s dubbing of their sons’ female playmates as their “girlfriends” so problematic. (And do you have to tread so carefully around family with whom you otherwise get along, right?)

    It also reminded me of the time I wasn’t invited to my friend Brian’s birthday party when we were in Kindergarten – his mother made the decision that I would be uncomfortable in a houseful of boys for me. (His mother’s attitude toward boys and girls was a major factor in our friendship kind of fizzling out, actually. We would’ve had a lot more fun if she hadn’t been so uptight.)

    I don’t always have the vocabulary to explain why something bothers me without relating personal anecdotes, but I’m starting to learn better ways to explain myself.

    • It sounds like you are doing a fantastic job, keep up the great work! I think there are ways to speak your truth without making the other person feel badly or embarrassed. And modeling how to use your voice is another great lesson for your daughter to see.

  3. “Can we please stop being so fearful of and trying to deny our children’s sexuality? They are human beings, they are going to develop into sexual creatures. It is a biological truth that got them here in the first place.”

    Girl, AMEN. Can I get that on a tshirt or something?! Seriously though, YES to that statement.

    • J,
      Right? I want my kids to grow into adults who enjoy having sex with loving, trustworthy partners. It is a wonderful part of being human. I want them to wait until they are much older and emotionally mature enough to handle sex, but when the act is age appropriate I’m all for it.

  4. I’m glad I am not the only one who had a negative reaction to this piece. I object to his attitude that he, not she, will be the one who decides who gets to be with her. How about teaching her how to make wise decisions about men and how to stand up and protect herself? Thankfully, neither my father or my brother acted this way toward guys I dated and I don’t think my husband will behave this way with our daughter. (Not on my watch, anyway).

  5. Rich Beckman says:

    I suspect that another problem is when boys hear adults teaching girls that they should not have anything to do with boys, it teaches the boys that if they want something from a girl, they will have to take it.

  6. Geri B. says:

    This post is my first exposure to you and key me tell you, you make a PHENOMENAL first impression. Well said, eloquent and thought provoking. Thank you for writing this! P.s. as a forensic nurse, I can’t tell you how many young ladies I’ve talked to who suffered because they were afraid to tell their parents they were dating, and as a result ended up in tragic situations. No child should be afraid to explore relationships at the developmentally appropriate age.

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