Your teen is asking to take a girl to the movies. Or, maybe there’s an unfamiliar person on the phone one afternoon asking to see your teen. It’s a normal part of parenting to watch your teen explore relationships and dating, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary for you.
Every parent understands the excitement of dating, but now that it’s happening with your teen, it’s normal to feel concerned. The best way to help your teen navigate this new phase of life is to have logical and respectful rules in place to keep him or her safe and teach them how to make good choices for themselves.
Your teen may think they’re grown, but in reality, the teen brain is still undergoing massive development. The rational part of your teen’s brain won’t finish developing until about age 25, leaving your teen open to questionable choices.
The emotional and decision-making centers don’t always develop at the same rate, leaving some teens open to questionable decision-making based on temporary moods and feelings. Everyone must overcome emotions to make better decisions at some point, but for your teen, this can be especially difficult.
Your teen may also lack the world experience necessary to make safe decisions. Situations that any adult could think through and see potential risks and flaws may trip up your teen, leaving you scratching your head as to why they make the decisions they do.
Rules help guide teens toward making good decisions for themselves, and they also reduce the risks that come with dating. While there’s always the chance your teen will break a rule, it’s essential to establish boundaries around dating, just like you did with other events throughout their childhood.
Some of your own dating experiences may have shaped your feelings about your teen’s situation, but it’s essential to separate your own experiences from theirs. You certainly have the experience to share, but your fears may not help you make the best decisions.
Instead, focus on the main points of the rules you set: Respect and learning. Your teen is going to need real guidance, so this isn’t the time to set arbitrary rules.
You have a short amount of time to provide guidance, help your teen establish healthy boundaries, and assist them in forming beliefs about relationships. Before you know it, your teen will be an adult and on their own. Now is the time to think about why you’re setting certain rules and what the purpose is of each one.
If you haven’t had “The Talk” with your teen, now is the time. Also, talk about how it’s important to extend the respect you expect inside the home to outside the home and the people they date. Learning to extend respect also helps teens identify disrespectful behaviors directed toward them.
Keeping communication lines open is crucial to identifying issues early on and knowing when to intervene.
Getting to know each person your teen is dating or talking to is the second part of establishing dating-specific rules. Younger teens may need to invite dates home to eat dinner with you face-to-face. Maybe you need to get to know the family of their date before they’re able to go over to their house.
Being involved helps you set rules and boundaries that are unique to your teen. They allow you to craft rules that have a purpose and allow your teen to succeed in dating. Plus, with the prevalence of risky online activities, getting involved could also save your teen’s life.
Privacy is a privilege based on your teen’s behavior. If you’re involved in your teen’s activities and life, you can make decisions about what privacy to give based on your teen’s trustworthiness.
There’s also a big difference in maturity between the ages of 14 and 17. Your 14-year-old will probably need more supervision than your 17-year-old, but as you go through the dating process, you can make decisions based on your teen’s maturity level and past behavior.
Your teen will appreciate being a collaborator in rule-making rather than having you hand down seemingly arbitrary ones. Giving teens a chance to share their expectations of dating and your role as the parent can provide some enlightening insights.
Once your teens have shared their thoughts, try to make these decisions together. When you build rules and set boundaries in a respectful way, you can establish your expectations and come to decisions together about this new stage in both your lives.
Open the lines of communication early so that you don’t encounter resistance or lying. The most significant way to keep your teen safe is to know what’s happening. No teen is perfect, and many will make mistakes, but open communication can make all the difference.
Boundaries are there to help your teen stay safe, so you and your teen must understand the consequences of breaking the rules before they decide to break the rules. Avoid setting consequences that you won’t be able to keep because this could encourage your teen to break more rules in the future.
Instead, consequences should be realistic, and their purpose should always be to help teach your teen how to make better decisions the next time. Also, avoid creating consequences in the moment and keeping your teen guessing. Consistency is key.
This is an exciting and nerve-wracking time in your teen’s life. Throwing down rules based on your gut reactions or establishing rules because you’re afraid to send your teen out into the world may not work in either of your favors.
Instead, maintaining respectful boundaries is all about teaching your teen what to expect from relationships and giving them guidance to reduce the risks of dating. Teens are exploring many parts of themselves as they establish romantic relationships, and you can help them ease into this new normal.
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