Rules for Dating
It is an emotional, overwhelming, and sometimes awkward time when your teenager starts dating. Many of us fear the time our child begins dating for a variety of reasons – it’s a big sign your child is growing up, it’s a time when your child desires someone else’s attention more than yours, and it opens a whole new area of worries such as potential heartache and sex. But regardless of your feelings about it, dating is a normal development phase in adolescence, and the way you support and guide your teen will have a big impact on their future relationships.
Talk to your teens about dating. Share a dating experience you had as a teen. Share your feelings about your values and what constitutes a healthy relationship. Teaching your teen that values are important actually encourages your teen to look for dates with similar good values. And, most importantly, share what rules you think are important for dating, and explain your reasoning. Many times, teens need to understand the reason behind a rule to be committed to following it.
Dating is a privilege for your teen, and there should be rules in place as well as consequences for not following the rules. When your teen wants to date, discuss the rules you believe are important, ask for your teen’s input, and compromise where you can see your teen’s viewpoint. Also discuss the consequences of not following the rules. We highly recommend writing the rules and consequences down in a “dating contract” so that there is not confusion over expectations. Here are some basic rules for the dating teen:
Establish Age Limits
Do not assume your teen is ready to date at a certain age. Some teens are interested in dating earlier than others, and some teens are ready for dating later than others. Your teen’s maturity level should be the deciding factor in being granted the privilege of dating. Assuming they are mature, most experts tend to recommend that teens wait until they are 16 years old before going on a one-on-one date. For younger teens, it is appropriate to allow your child’s boyfriend/girlfriend to come over to your house or go out with him/her with a group of friends to public places. You might make a rule that your teen cannot go on a one-on-one date until they are 16 years old.
Finally, consider making a rule about possible age gaps between your teen and their crush. For example, there is usually a big difference in maturity level between a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old, which can lead to the younger teen being pressured into more intimacy than they are ready for. Encourage your teen to date people who are close in age. You might make a rule that they cannot date someone more than 2 years older or 2 years younger than they are.
Get to Know Your Teen’s Dates
Make it clear that your teen cannot go out on a date with someone until you have had the opportunity to meet that person. Invite your teen’s date to dinner at your home or on a fun family activity. At a minimum, your teen’s date should come inside and chat for awhile before the couple bolts out the door. However, you also need to make a big effort not to embarrass your teen at that time. Don’t tell stories about their childhood, for example. Also, don’t lecture them on all the rules. You should have had the “rules” discussion with your own teen, so you don’t need to reiterate them in front of the date.
Keep the Bedroom Door Open
Do not allow your teen and their date complete privacy, which will only tempt them to engage in sexual activity. If your teen invites a date into your home, make a rule that says the door must stay open.
Get the Specifics
Regardless of whether your teen is on a date or not, you should get the details of any outing your teen makes. You should always know who your teen will be with, where they will be going, what they will be doing, who will be driving, and when your teen will be home. If their plans change, your teen should contact you right away. If your teen is going to a date’s home, find out who will be home. Have a conversation with the date’s parents to talk about their rules. Other families may not have any set rules or may not see the need to provide any type of supervision. Dating rules should include:
- I will be home – in the door and date gone – by my curfew of ____.
- I will tell my parents where I am going to be, and with whom, for the entire time I am gone.
- I will notify my parents if my plans change while on my date.
In addition to laying down the rules for dating, parents should also take time to discuss dating violence with their teen. Studies show that 1 in 3 American teenagers have experienced an abusive dating relationship, so it’s absolutely critical that parents discuss dating violence with their teens. When teens hear “dating abuse,” they may think the term is limited to severe violence, such as rape or beatings. It’s up to the adults in their lives to let them know that dating abuse includes:
- insults or put-downs in social media, in front of friends, or in private;
- verbal or written threats of violence or of sharing private information;
- monitoring the victim’s actions (using texts to find out where they are or requiring they share their account passwords); and
- isolating the victim from their friends or family.
Dating abuse is really a pattern of behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. Parents should talk to their teens about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. Someone new to dating might not realize that the way their boyfriend or girlfriend is treating them is not appropriate unless they are given information ahead of time.