Discrimination and dating

I really like this guy, but I know my parents don’t want me to see him because he’s a different race. I feel like I’m caught between my boyfriend and my family, and I don’t want to choose.

Sometimes, parents’ rules about dating aren’t about keeping you safe – they’re about their own attitudes and beliefs that can
be discriminatory.

Some parents may forbid or discourage you from dating someone because of their ethnic or cultural background, sexual orientation, religion, or some other perceived difference.

Dealing with your parents’ discrimination can make dating more difficult and confusing than it already is. It can also make your home life tense. It’s not easy, but you can get through it.

What is discrimination?

If your parents have a problem with the person you’re dating because they think of them as “different” or not as good (because of their religion or skin colour, for example) this is
called discrimination.

Your parents may discriminate against your boyfriend or girlfriend because of their:

  • gender (for example, if you’re in a same-sex relationship)
  • culture
  • religion
  • skin colour
  • ethnicity
  • the place they’re from
  • their family’s financial background (for example, if they’re wealthy)
  • appearance (for example, what clothes they wear)
  • physical ability (for example, if they have a disability)
  • career ambitions

Why do my parents discriminate?

There could be many reasons for this,
which may include:

  • Fear. Your parents may feel uncomfortable with the person you are dating because they see them as “different” from you and your family.
  • Stereotypes. Your parents may have false ideas about your boyfriend or girlfriend because of stereotypes or wrong assumptions.
  • Their own experiences. Your parents may have had a negative experience that biases their views of your boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Status. Your parents may be worried that if you date someone “different”, that you will lose your culture, your place in your community, or respect from others.

How it might feel

Dating someone your parents disapprove of can leave you feeling confused, like you’re caught between different people you care about. Other things you might be feeling are:

  • Shame: “I love my parents, but I’m so embarrassed they’re acting this way.”
  • Confusion: “Should I tell my girlfriend why my parents don’t want us to go out? I want to be honest, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
  • Anger: “How could my parents think those things? It seems so mean.”
  • Guilt: “I know my parents are wrong, but I’d hate to go against them.”
  • Sadness: “I wish we could have a normal relationship.”
  • Hopeless: “This will never work out.”

However you feel, try to keep in mind that your parents’ behaviour is not about you. It’s also not about the person you are dating. If you’re finding it challenging that you and your parents are not on the same page about the person you’re dating, try sharing how you feel with a trusted adult, or contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868
or when Live Chat is available.

How to deal

If your parents are opposed to you dating someone because of their discriminatory attitudes, some options you have are:

  • Try to talk to your parents about their attitudes and beliefs. Ask them to get to know the person you are dating before they judge them. This might help them to understand each other.
  • Ask an adult who your parents respect (for example, an aunt, neighbour, or teacher) to talk to them on your behalf.
  • Hold off on introducing your boyfriend or girlfriend in person to your family.
  • Stay hopeful: sometimes talking things out with your parents can go a long way.

Remember: only you know your parents and are the best judge of how they will react. If you push the issue, what do you think your parents will do? Trust your instincts. Don’t do anything you feel will put you or the person you are dating in danger (you may want to use our Safety Planner so that you know what to do in an emergency). You can also call a counsellor at Kids Help Phone; we can help you think through your situation.

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Last reviewed September 2013 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team

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