Parents Giving Dating Advice to Teens
There are few parents that relish the idea of their teen beginning to date. However, there are actually a lot of benefits to your teenagers experiencing the give and take of a relationship. No one can “learn” how to be a good partner – it’s more “on the job” training. Dating helps young people learn to get along with others, communicate, negotiate, make decisions, and learn to be assertive.
Although you can’t teach your children how to date, there are lots of things you can tell them that will help them navigate this new part of their life. For example, you want to express the importance of two people having respect for one another, of protecting themselves from dating violence (you can read our previous blog on dating violence), and of the emotional roller coaster they can expect (teens are not always prepared for the strong feelings of highs and lows).
Although parents may think their advice on dating will be unwanted, new studies suggest that teens not only value parental input, but tend to have healthier romantic relationships when it is offered. However, there is a fine line between offering helpful advice and trying to control your teen’s life. Teens prefer adults to simply listen to their problems, reflect on what they hear, and talk through possible solutions. Pushing a specific solution, judging your teen’s partner choice, or directing them to take a certain direction all fall under the “too much” category and will likely backfire. It can be so hard for parents to watch their teens make mistakes, but it is part of the growing up process. Following are some ideas of helpful advice you can say to your teen when they begin to talk about dating:
Only Fools Rush In
When your friends start dating, it may feel important that you start dating, too. Every person is ready for different things at different times, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do something you’re not ready to do. If you would rather hang out with your close friends, then you are making a good choice to stay single. You should only start dating if you know yourself, what qualities you’re looking for in a partner, and you know you want to date. Being ready for dating has nothing to do with your age and everything to do with whether you’re ready to handle all the tough challenges that come with it. Do you know your limits when it comes to physical boundaries – holding hands, kissing, undressing to a certain point – and can you communicate them clearly and firmly to your partner? Can you handle the rejection that almost always comes in any relationship – would you be able to bounce back from being dumped, or on the other hand, could you break up with someone in a firm, but kind way?
Find Someone You Genuinely Like and Who Likes You Back
You should never enter into a relationship with a person with whom you are not comfortable. Consider why you would date the person? If your only reason is because they are good-looking, then that’s not enough. You should share common interests and a certain level of respect. Watch how your potential partner treats their friends, teachers and parents – if they are disrespectful to them, they will likely not treat you right. What do your friends think of him? Sometimes others can see someone’s flaws easier than we can. And you should be choosing someone who returns your feelings. If they aren’t interested in you the same way, you are simply setting yourself up for rejection. You can’t convince someone to like you.
When you do go on a date with someone, try to understand more about them by asking questions. Be social and find out about what interests them and what makes them tick. Learn to listen to them, using eye-contact, and develop your conversation skills. And remember that he or she should also be interested in learning about, not just talking about, himself or herself.
Know When to Move On
Many relationships just don’t work. This doesn’t mean you’re a failure; it just means that you and your partner weren’t the right match. As a teen, you have many years ahead to enjoy romance and dating, so when a relationship doesn’t work, chalk it up to a learning experience and move on. Whether your partner isn’t who you thought they were, or they have turned selfish, or you just realize you want something better or different, it’s okay to walk away. It will hurt, but you can get through it and be better on the other side.
It’s important that you pay attention to how your date treats you. He or she has no right to play with your feelings or threaten and control you. Whenever you are on a date, ask yourself how comfortable you are with your dating partner. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, you should get out of the relationship.
You should be able to have honest conversations with your partner – when you need something from them, do not be misleading trying to spare their feelings. Simply say what you need firmly. Your date should try to understand and accept your point of view.
Boundaries you should discuss when you start dating someone include how willing you are to be in a physical relationship, the importance of maintaining your separate friends, and an agreement on social media. For example, you might want to agree that on the weekends, you will go on a date one night, but hang out separately with your friends the other night. Your friends can be a great support to you if your partner ever lets you down. A healthy, romantic relationship has enough room for your separate friendships, too. Also, social media can have a huge impact on your relationship because all the ups and downs of dating are out there for everyone to see. It is a good idea to ask your partner not to post things about you online, including pictures.
Protect Yourself From Pressure
Peer pressure seems to be part of teen life, but it should have no foothold in a romantic relationship. You can avoid many unwanted situations – whether that’s pressure to drink, do drugs, drive recklessly, get physical, etc. – by creating firm boundaries and sticking to them. Honest love does not want to put their partner in an uncomfortable situation; pressure is not love. Do not let your partner pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. To help, try to avoid situations where your partner might expect more than you want to give. And girls, go out with boys close to your age (no more than one grade ahead or behind you). Several studies have shown that teen girls who go out with older guys are more likely to have sex before they’re ready.
Love Takes Time to Grow
Teens often wonder if they are really in love. The emotions that come with dating are strong and intense, so that infatuation is easily confused for love. Mature love grows stronger with time. The more you get to know each other, the stronger your feelings can become. Love means wanting the best for the other person. If you are constantly thinking about the other person, trying to find ways to “fix” their flaws or change them, wanting to control them or their decisions, or if you need constant reassurance from that person, you are more likely infatuated, than in love.
Finding mature love usually takes more than one try, so just try to enjoy the adventure along the way.
Parents should talk about relationships in regular, everyday conversations. This 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. Teens who see arguments, disrespect and even abuse in their parents’ relationship will mimic that behavior and see it as “normal”. 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.