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Brace yourselves, it's going to be a long one... I hope this is an acceptable question here; if not I wonder if the Interpersonal Skills board might take it?

TL;DR: My 14-year old daughter wants to visit a young man I've never met who lives a significant distance from us. I'm reasonably confident it's safe because of context, but I want to know how I can be more certain.

I'm a single mother with a 14-year old daughter, who we'll call Lydia. A few years ago (think when Lydia was 11-12), we had an older (17-18) female friend (call her Ella) who she'd met at school babysit for her after school while I was still at work. Ella became a good friend to Lydia, and I trust her (Ella).

I assume they hung out together at school as well, as over the summer holidays 2016, Lydia started mentioning some of Ella's friends in idle conversation. Fast forward slightly: she started talking to one of these friends (Ella's age, and we'll call him Oliver) on Facebook. They've met in person a few times, both with and without Ella present, so I'm confident that at least he's a real person who is who he claims to be.

For better or worse, Ella dropped out of our lives when she left school and went to university. Oliver didn't (drop out of our lives that is) - Lydia continued talking to him online and they have a good friendship. Lydia is having a number of mental health issues that she won't talk to me about (I think I've reacted the wrong way to them previously so she won't trust me with them any more, but that's another issue), but she talks to Oliver about them and says he's really helped her.

The current situation: Oliver is at university around 100 miles away from us ("us" being in London). Recently, Lydia brought up to me the idea of going to see him for a day or potentially a weekend. I hope some other parents on this board can see why I'm nervous about that.

I would like to be able to allow her to go, because I think it would help her and make her happier, but I'm still not entirely without concern. The journey itself is not a concern: it's not a difficult trip by train, I could take her to the station one end and Oliver could pick her up at the other. However, while I'm reasonably sure that Oliver is who he claims to be and Lydia would be safe, I've never personally met him, which makes me nervous.

How can I talk to Lydia about this? What can I do to allay my own fears? Going with her is out of the question - she would rather not go than have me with her. What other options are there?

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    Your 14 year old daughter wants to visit a college boy you have not met? That would be a no from me. At University there are lots people his age. Seeking out a 14 year old girl is just not right in my book. – paparazzo Jan 22 '18 at 21:32
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    This is not a way of ensuring her safety, but since you haven't met Oliver and he's 100 miles away, could you arrange a video-chat meeting with him? You'll at least have seen him once, even if it is not as ideal as in real life. – Hekx Jan 23 '18 at 20:49
  • @Paparazzi [rephrasing] you have a point - this doesn't sound right although it sounds more “accidental” than ... I was generally agreeing. Sorry. Will remove comment. – Will Crawford Jan 26 '18 at 18:52
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Assuming that all is above board, it is not fair to the young man to put him in a position where he could be at risk for being accused of any impropriety. Given their ages, any hint of an accusation would be subject to mandatory reporting regulations. If that happened, he would have almost no possibility of defense if he were accused of anything, and even if he were acquitted it would end his college and probably any career he has planned.

If she cares for him at all, this should encourage her to find a middle ground that works for everyone.

What I did when my own daughter at that age wanted to meet with a suicidal friend was take them both to a neutral place, buy them coffees, and then find a quiet corner apart from them where I read my book while they sorted things out.

  • Huh? Mandatory reporting has no bearing. It only applies to employees of certain professions, which A I am not and B this is outside any work-related situation anyway. More to the point, I would've thought it's his choice whether he wants to be in that position or not - he's just as capable of refusing a visit as anyone else here. – TwoPointThrowaway Jan 22 '18 at 8:42
  • Both are still students, and are in regular contact with teachers, who are mandatory reporters. Enough young men's lives have been ruined this way that it is a valid lever you can use to arrive at a comfortable compromise, for both jet and his safety. – pojo-guy Jan 22 '18 at 10:13
  • I'm sure he's capable of protecting his own safety. He doesn't need me trying to do it for him. – TwoPointThrowaway Jan 22 '18 at 13:50
  • You're missing the point - Your concern is your daughter's safety, but she's already given you the brushoff. This is a lever that opens the negotiation for a mutually agreeable solution. If I were giving advice to the young man I would be using much stronger statements. – pojo-guy Jan 22 '18 at 14:49
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    @TwoPointThrowaway I agree with the basic idea here that you need to meet the guy. I don't think you should blindly transfert trust from Ella to a guy you've never met and may no longer be her friend. However, I would try to find a more positive argument as the above is likely to antagonize her further. – user27286 Jan 22 '18 at 15:18
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To answer your title question: you cannot. If you decide to allow her to go, you will have to come to grips with that fact. Your natural concerns and reservations are right on target, and you should give your parental instincts more credit.

As a parent (and as a former college student and a former 14-year-old girl) this whole situation would be extremely concerning to me. I would not allow my own daughter to visit a female friend overnight at a college campus, even if she was a relative, simply because it is a college campus. If I had not met the person in question, that would make my response an even more resounding “No.”

I assume when you ask about ensuring her safety - because you are not worried about anything that would happen on the trip to and from the campus - you are worried about what might happen between your 14-year-old daughter and her (what it sounds like) 20 year-old male friend. I would say with good reason! At their ages, you can virtually guarantee that if they are interested in spending a weekend together, they are at least interested in being “involved” with one another, if they aren’t involved already.

At 14 she is still a minor, and even if she feels grown up and wants to be treated as an adult, even if she is highly intelligent and precocious, there are good reasons that the law still treats her as a child. Even at 20, “Oliver”’s decision-making brain is not fully developed. Keep in mind that if she goes to visit, the young man will essentially be her designated guardian for that period of time, and I highly doubt that he views her as a child.

If I were in your situation, I would sit down with my daughter and say the following: “I understand that Oliver is a good friend of yours, and I don’t want to stop you from seeing your friends. However, as the person responsible for your safety, I can’t reconcile a decision to let you go stay overnight on a college campus with a young man whom I have never met. If you guys can come up with a way for me to meet him, then we can maybe discuss another time the possibility of you going to visit for the day, but for the time being the answer is no.”

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