I think many of us can relate to Deanna, mom of three girls (one a teen), when she said, “Dating? Not my babies!!” My own first date happened when I was 16½, and my parents were hardcore: if I missed curfew by one minute I was grounded for two weeks (I was grounded quite often). For me, 13 or 14 would have been too young for dating because boys still freaked me out then, and I had no siblings to learn from.
Many parents take the issue of teen dating on a case-by-case basis because every kid is different. Some are more mature at age 15, while others may not be ready for a first date until age 19. “We don’t have a set age yet for dating, and our oldest is 14. I think a numerical age is way too hard to pinpoint because of different maturity levels. I do see being a responsible driver as somewhat related to being able to handle dating,” said Wendy Budetti, mom of five.
Some parents see dating as a means to finding a spouse, so why start so early? Instead, group dating might be encouraged. Mall dates are a great place to start when kids are in junior high. Kids can meet up to walk around, shop, hit the food court and maybe see a movie. Some parents will stay and sit at the back of the theatre with an eagle eye while some do the drop-off thing.
House dates are a next step for teens (or parents!) who may not be quite ready for one-on-one dating yet. Tonya of Clarksville, Indiana said, “My daughter is 17 and for the last year or so I have allowed her to have a boy come over and watch a movie or play a board game as long as I am home, and her room is off limits!”
Sean Covey’s book, “The Six Most Important Decisions You Will Ever Make: A Guide for Teens,” talks about teens being ready to date and knowing the difference between “intelligent” and “brainless” dating. Intelligent dating is not making decisions based on hormones, popularity, money, and what the crowd is doing. Brainless dating is the opposite.
When you feel your teen is ready for one-on-one dating, keep these pointers in mind:
- Try to model healthy romantic relationships at home. Talk to your child about dating and how it’s not always like the media portrays it, how some of the very best dates are free and to be realistic about how a date might play out.
- Talk to your teen about what a good relationship is, for instance: the other person should never push, hit, or degrade your teen, shouldn’t pressure your teen into doing things he knows he shouldn’t be doing. In essence, make sure they know how they want to be treated.
- Have a plan. Teens should decide in advance things like qualities they are looking for, how they don’t want a date to go, what they will do if they find themselves in a bad situation, etc.
- Teen dating is about meeting many different kinds of people to find out what they eventually might like in a life partner, so don’t flip out if your teen brings a guy home that you don’t love. Chances are this will not be your future son-in-law.
- Talk to your teen about being himself and not turning into a chameleon to please a potential date.
- Let your teen know she can always come to you with questions. Don’t be afraid to talk about your own best and worst dates and mistakes you’ve made while dating. Everybody has bad judgment sometimes, so let your teen know you understand that and you are willing to come pick him up at any time of the night if a bad situation arises.
Kim of Indianapolis put it well when she said, “I think the best thing you can do is set the rules and guidelines for your daughter or son and do not let society set them. You have to parent them, not be their friend, and not be their matchmaker.”
Kerrie McLoughlin (TheKerrieShow.com) is a mom of 5.