As a parent of a teenager, one of the most daunting tasks is navigating the world of dating. Parents tend to go to the extremes of “No dating until you’re 30” or “I will let my child experiment without parameters so they will not rebel” typically based on their fears and their own experience of teenage dating. Good parenting boils down to effective bonding and boundaries and that is no different in the world of dating.
Before middle school, begin having conversations about dating and their thoughts on relationships. Your tendency may be to set rules and expectations before allowing your child to inform you of what they think is healthy and appropriate. Ask open-ended questions like, “What do you think about teen dating? How does someone know that they have special feelings for someone other than as a friend? What do you think we (as parents) do well and not so well as a couple? How do you feel about being sexually active before marriage?” These questions may be hard to ask, but starting the dialogue and creating a non-judgmental environment early on will do wonders in preventing those worst fears from running amuck.
As with all other responsibilities transferred to teens, such as devices, social media, driving, managing money, etc., setting clear guidelines for dating based on maturity level is key. Dating at age 14 is going to look different at age 18. Decide what you feel comfortable with in terms of alone time, length of time together, frequency, and locations for dates. I encourage parents to invite their child’s love interest over and get to know them. Make your home a safe space to hang out and get to know each other while having a watchful eye. Encourage group dates and avoiding one on one time while promoting modesty, fun shared experiences, healthy communication and valuing one’s body.
Remember there are socialization benefits to dating and you play an important role in how your child reacts to attention from the opposite sex. Your child craves healthy affirmation, quality time, physical touch, guidance and fun. If they are getting that from you, then they are more likely to approach relationships with peers in a healthy manner. Also, be conscious of the opportunity you have to love on kids who may not have healthy role models in their home. Respecting your child’s choices while at the same time enforcing healthy standards in your home can be tricky but worth it. You never know when that “crazy kid from a broken home, drama queen, or kid from the wrong crowd” could one day become your future son or daughter in law.