By Kelly Olson, MS, LMFT | The Village Family Service Center
It seems like yesterday they were holding your hand across the street. Now your son or daughter is a teenager. They’re interested in dating, which you know can mean more than just holding someone else’s hand …
It’s difficult to establish a “right” age for dating, as every teen is different, but there are some guidelines to keep in mind. One-on-one dating usually begins around age 15 or 16. Encourage group activities for 13- or 14-year-olds and younger. Intense solo dating at 13 may not be developmentally appropriate and could put your child at risk.
You’ll want to establish rules. Set boundaries regarding phones, texting, social media and online dating. Set a curfew, and consequences for breaking it. Determine when and how your adolescent will inform you of who they will be with and where they will be. Talk to your teen about rules within a relationship (how frequent contact should be, how to treat a partner, when car dates are allowed, etc.).
Here are some other factors you may want to consider as your teen starts dating.
- Never prohibit relationships. Telling your adolescent that they are NOT allowed to date someone will only increase their desire to do so.
- Get to know your teen’s partner. Find ways to encourage contact with your family. Find fun activities (skiing, movies, going to a water park) where you can monitor their relationship.
- Remember this is normal and OK! Expect that your child is going to get seriously interested in a dating partner. This is part of normal development and needed for them to learn about relationships.
- Have conversations with your child about the relationship. Open the communication window, letting them know they can talk with you about anything without judgment
- Manage your own emotions. It can be difficult to deal with your child becoming sexually active or romantically involved. Take a deep breath and take a break if needed. An overly reactive or angry response will cause your child to shut down and learn that these subjects are off limits with you.
- Have a discussion about possible risks of online dating, for example, people pretending to be what they are not.
- Be very careful of invading your teen’s privacy. Allow some privacy, but if you believe your adolescent is in engaging in risky behavior, check on them. Talk about how much privacy your adolescent will have on social media. Parents need to educate themselves about the sites.
- Talk about sex. Avoiding this subject will not help your adolescent. Share your values about sex and provide information. This will also help establish a line of communication.
- Discuss potential problems. How will they handle difficult or risky situations? How will they say no? How will they handle peer pressure?