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When a Teen Enters an Interracial Relationship

QUESTION: My ninth grade daughter has become interested in a boy of a different race. This type of thing could potentially tear my extended family apart. At her young age (she is 14), I'm not sure she is mature enough to understand the implications of such a relationship. Can you give me some advice?

ANSWER: At 14, your daughter may not be extremely mature about relationships in general. However, it is not maturity that is at question here, but prejudice. Every generation has its' own discriminations. Your daughter's peer group may or may not carry the level of intolerance that exists within your extended family, or even your immediate community. Regardless, teenagers will challenge family belief systems when hypocrisies arise. This is the nature of adolescence. And as the mom, you may find that your own values come into question, too.

You may know very little about your daughter's interest in this boy, except that he is of a different race than your own. If she continues to show interest, perhaps you can find out more about the kind of person he is and what attracts her to him. Your anxieties may be somewhat quelled when this boy becomes a person to you, rather than an unknown object of fear. Studies on prejudice show that exposure to racial and cultural differences relieves ignorance, and in general, increases tolerance.

This situation presents an opportunity for pain and for growth, whether or not your teenager ever dates this young man. Discussions about the topic of interracial marriage may likely be something that comes up in school as well as at home. Having these discourses, rather than avoiding them, will help ease the tension you feel. Ignoring the issue will not make it go away. Talking about it provides an avenue for realistic anticipation of what your daughter will face in the family. A discussion about her interest will likely present the opportunity for you to express your fears about your family's bias against interracial dating.

Family researchers describe the period of raising teenagers as a "transformation" in the family system. As teens develop their own values, glitches in the moral fabric of our lives is accented. The thrust of the adolescent's quest for truth and identity pressures us and sometimes threatens our comfortable equilibrium, but gives us a chance to reflect.

If this young man returns her interest, and if some level of friendship or dating develops, you may be faced with two choices: to support your daughter or to remain loyal to your family's interracial dating bias. Which will it be? Think deeply about your dilemma, as it is nothing short of soul-searching.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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