We all want to think that we’re mature enough to handle dating someone older than we are.  But the truth is we often don’t understand the power imbalances that may keep us from being an equal partner in a dating relationship.  As a teen it’s always a much better idea to date someone within your own age range (by 1 or 2 years).

“But I’m mature for my age!”

You may be.  But mature for your age doesn’t mean you can handle dating someone 5 to 20+ years older than you are.  The adult has a lot more experience than you do (dating or otherwise) and can really use that to his or her advantage.  Be mature with someone your own age, then if problems arise, you can handle them on an equal footing.

“There isn’t any real power imbalance.”

If your older boy/girlfriend has money, a job, a car, their own house or apartment, etc. — you can bet there’s a power imbalance!  Again, you may think it doesn’t matter that they pay for everything or always drive — but it does.  These things give a certain power to one person and if they choose to abuse that power it is very easy to do so.

“But my parents have a fifteen year age difference and they’ve been married for 20 years!”

That’s great.  For every person who has a “success” story we can name plenty who have failed or have had abusive outcomes.  Plus, being with someone whose 50 when you’re 30 is much different than being with someone whose 35 when you’re 15.

And finally…

If you’re a teenager dating an adult you need to question why this person isn’t dating somebody his or her own age.  Are they a loser?  An abuser?  Do they want someone young who they can manipulate?  Do they want someone “clean” (e.g. disease free)?  Some motives may not always be the best.

Adapted from material created by Dawn Dougherty for Womansplace Crisis Center Brockton, MA