Teen Dating 101
Our goal as a parent is to be successful at helping our children accomplish the developmental goals of the teen years – becoming increasingly responsible and independent. One of those developmental steps is dating. Dating is a normal adolescent life stage experience for all teenagers. There are a variety of issues that come up when teens want to date, so we will try to cover the when, what and how of dating here.
When Should Teens Begin Dating
While some teens tend to be interested in dating earlier than others and girls tend to express their desires to date more vocally, all adolescents will move through this developmental milestone. Most experts tend to recommend that teens wait until they are 16 years old before going on a one-on-one date, but the maturity level of your own child is the most important criteria in making this determination.
Many preteens are expressing interest in dating now, but that doesn’t mean they are ready for one-on-one dating. At this age, it is best to allow your child to go out with a group of friends to public places, such as rolling skating, school sporting events, and movies. Another option is allowing them to invite their boyfriend/girlfriend over to your home. This is a great way to set the stage up for when they are dating seriously. You will find if you make this a habit now, you will be introduced to future ‘friends’ without having to ask.
Talking About Dating
A teen does not learn how to date in the classroom and most likely has only picked up on some of the basics, like respecting someone’s personal space, at home. They have not learned the give and take required in a relationship and will most likely only learn this while on a date… sort of ‘on the job’ training. Dating helps young people learn to get along with others, communicate, negotiate, make decisions, and learn to be assertive. It’s an important part of growing up, and talking about it together will help your teen mature.
Talking about relationships in regular, everyday conversations lets you and your child talk about your family values when it comes to friendship, dating, and love. You can reinforce the values that concern dating and relationships by discussing them with your teenager and modeling them with your spouse or significant other. Teaching your teen that values are important actually encourages your teen to look for dates with similar good values. Empower them to enjoy the journey of this new part of their life.
Any preteen or teenager that is interested in dating is also ready for the “sex” talk from their parents. They need to know how their body is changing, exactly what happens in the physical act of sex, and also your opinions and values about love and relationships. When talking to your teen about dating, be sure to mention the difference between sex and dating. Dating is a time when two people are getting to know each other. Dating is not a step towards becoming physically intimate. Be clear that just because you are talking to them about sex, they do not have permission to engage in any inappropriate touching. Define what this term means for them, because preteens are notorious for ‘wrestling.’ You can check out our earlier blog on talking to teens about sex.
One method for talking to your teen about dating is role playing. Dating can place new pressure on your child that they may not be ready to handle. Although this method might not work for everyone, you should try role playing what your child will say if their date suggests sex, drugs, or going to a place they had not agreed on earlier. For example, you might ask you child what they would say if their date says, ‘Well, if you don’t want to have sex, why are we dating?’ By role playing, your teen can be prepared to answer like this: ‘We’re dating because I like you and I want to spend some time with you. If you want to have sex, then you are dating the wrong person.’ Confidence comes with practice, so practice often with them!
Rules for Teen Dating
When your son/daughter wants to start dating, you need to immediately set down the rules. Be sure to consider all of the issues related to dating and decide what rules you want to implement. You must set these rules before they go on any dates. It is much easier to stick to the rules for you and your teen if you don’t have to negotiate them on the spot in front of their ‘friend’. Below are some examples of rules you might want to require:
- I will keep communicating to my parents about dating, relationships, our family values, and physical contact, including sexual relations.
- I will introduce my date to my parents before I will be able to go out alone on a date with him/her. I understand that I may go out on group dates with friends my parents know without introductions.
- I will not date anyone ___ years older than me or anyone ___ years younger than me.
- I am allowed to go on ___ dates per week, this includes visiting at each other’s homes but not group or school outings.
- I will be home – in the door and date gone – by my curfew of ____. (Note parents that the curfew time may change as your child matures.)
- I will tell my parents where I am going to be and with whom for the entire time I am gone. (Note parents that you should know all the details of your child’s outing, including what adults and teens will be present, where it will take place, who is driving, what they’re doing, and when they’ll be home.)
- I will require my date to be respectful of me and my family. This includes speaking kindly to family members, ringing the doorbell to pick me up (not honking the horn or calling from a cell phone in the driveway), and treating me with kindness. (Note parents that we will discuss dating violence in a future blog.)
- My responsibilities come first. I will keep up with _________ (e.g. homework/grades, chores, sports, etc.) or possibly lose my dating privileges.
- When my date visits me at our house, I will keep all doors open and expect that my parents may check on me.
Since teens tend to listen to your rules when they know the reasoning behind them, tell your child your feelings along with the rules. Also, keep in mind that sometimes writing down the rules is more effective than just stating them once or twice. Consider drawing up a contract with your teen that lays down the rules you’ve agreed upon. Allow them to develop some of the rules with you.
Tips for Parents
Invite your teenager’s date over to the house to get to know them better before they go out. When being introduced to your teenager’s date, be courteous and friendly. Ask a few questions about their interests and/or lives, but do not grill your teenager’s date. Try to avoid making him/her any more uncomfortable than he/she is already feeling. This is not the time to go over the rules and limitations of dating your teen. Before your teen’s date arrives, make sure that you have reviewed all of the rules and that you have received all of the necessary information.
Develop a “pick up” scenario. Teens are notorious for getting themselves into situations that they have a hard time getting out of by themselves. Let your teenager know you will pick him/her up at any place or anytime, even three o’clock in the morning. You will do so without any consequences to your teenager with the understanding that everyone makes mistakes in judgment. You simply want your teen to be safe. Arguments, drinking, etc. can all be a part of a bad dating experience.
Make sure that you keep the doors to communication open during this new change. You will need to respect their privacy – you don’t need to know every detail of their date – but they may want or need to share some information. Stay involved and attentive to what is going on. By setting rules with your teen about dating, you will help your child learn to make good choices and to build healthy relationships.