5 Things Parents Should Tell Teens About Dating

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s a great time to think about your teen’s dating life. Dating is a true rite of passage in adolescence, and if you, as a parent, have the right attitude and message, dating can become a great teaching tool for your child. Dating helps young people learn to get along with others, communicate, negotiate, make decisions, and learn to be assertive.

There is a fine line in what information a teen is willing to hear from their parents about their love life. For example, if your teen is having a problem with their significant other, they do not want to hear you try to push a specific solution or criticize their partner. They would prefer you listen to their problem, understand their feelings, brainstorm possible solutions, and support their own decision. It can be hard as a parent to do this, but it is an important part of the growing up process and will actually strengthen your relationship.

Although you can’t teach your children how to date, nor can you fix their love life problems, there are lots of things you can tell them that will help them navigate this new part of their life. Following are some ideas of helpful advice you can say to your teen when they begin to talk about dating:

Only Fools Rush In

Remind your teen that they should never feel pressured to do something before they are ready. Your teen will have friends that might start dating early, and as they get older, they will have friends who are already sexually intimate with their partners. Your teen will likely feel the pressure to fit in. Let your teen know that being ready for dating (or physical intimacy) 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. Your teen needs to know the answers to some important questions before they begin a romantic relationship. Do you know your limits when it comes to physical boundaries – holding hands, kissing, undressing – and can you communicate those boundaries clearly and firmly to your partner? Do you know the warning signs that a partner is becoming abusive? 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? Are you willing to compromise on things you want in order to resolve conflict with your partner? Romantic relationships have a lot of responsibility involved, and teens should know that before jumping in.

Find Someone You Genuinely Like and Who Likes You Back

Teens can feel so pressured to fit in that they may not choose a dating partner for the best reasons. Many times, young people are attracted to another person based on their physical appearance or popularity. As a parent, you need to guide your teen to look deeper than these surface traits. Tell your teen that they deserve a healthy relationship, which is based on respect and trust. Suggest your teen look for a partner who is honest; shares their values; treats them, and others (parents, teachers, friends), with respect; listens to their opinions and ideas without putting them down; supports their interests and success; and respects their boundaries. And, remind your teen that they should be choosing someone who returns their feelings. You can’t convince someone to like you.

Know When to Move On

Many relationships just don’t work. Let your teen know that it can be just as important to know when it’s time to move on as it is to be in a relationship. Be sure to tell your teen that breaking up doesn’t mean they are a failure; it just means that they weren’t the right match and, now, they have more information to find a better match next time. Remind your teen that they have many years ahead to enjoy romance and dating, so when a relationship doesn’t work, chalk it up to a learning experience. It might hurt, but they can get through it and be better on the other side. Note that it’s important to tell you teen this before they date. They are not usually receptive to hearing this message while in the middle of a break-up.

Create Boundaries

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Sadly, 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. As a result, it’s important that you teach your teen to create boundaries. Let your teen know that they should feel comfortable with, and respected by, their dating partner, and if they’re not, they should get out of the relationship. Your teen should be able to have honest conversations with their partner with each person working to understand and accept the other’s point of view. Each person should be able to express their needs honestly without fearing their partner’s response. If one person in the relationship gets angry over the other’s boundaries, ignores their limits, or calls their needs stupid, they are not showing respect, and this is a red flag that they could eventually become an abuser. Your teen should also set their own boundaries for how much time they will spend together as a couple versus with other friends and whether they will post about each other on social media.

Love Takes Time to Grow

Teens often wonder if they are really in love. The emotions that come with dating are strong and intense, which makes it easy to confuse infatuation with love. Let your teen know that 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. Explain to your teen that if they are trying to find ways to “fix” their partner’s flaws or change them, wanting to control them or their decisions, or if they need constant reassurance from that person, they are more likely infatuated than in love. Remind your teen that finding mature love usually takes more than one try, and it’s easier to find as everyone grows up, so just try to enjoy the adventure along the way.

Final Thoughts…

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.

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