When a teen enters an interracial relationship

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?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

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.

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