You may have been half dreading this moment for the last 15 or so years, but the time has come — your adolescent child is ready to date. While you might be tempted to lock them in their room (and lose the key), this exciting and nerve-wracking milestone can be a learning and growing experience for both of you. But don’t worry, you do not have to blindly navigate this uncharted territory. We are here to help with some starter guidance for you and a few teen-dating tips for your kiddos — plus, some words of empathy because this stage can be challenging.
Talk less, listen more. The best thing you can do right now is listen to your child. Try to quell your instinct to lecture and let your teenager lead the conversation. This is your chance to become your kid’s confidant and their shoulder to lean on. Earn their trust by hearing them out without presumption or judgment.
Of course, while you may strive to become your teenager’s bestie, you are still also their parent. As such, you will want to lay out some key ground rules and boundaries. But creating curfews, setting age restrictions, and establishing rules for teenage dating can pit you and your kid against each other. To this end, it is more fruitful to make a game plan together.
Always make sure that you are looped in on the basic “who, what, when, and where” of a specific date or outing. If your child is going to someone’s home, ask if there will be an adult present. Make sure you address these issues in advance to eliminate stress — on both sides.
Be willing to compromise so that your soon-to-be dating daughter or son feels like they have some power in this shifting dynamic. Acknowledge that they are growing up and that this is an important rite of passage; you are putting your trust in them, and they should do the same for you. What’s more, an adolescent will be more open to meeting you in the middle if you are willing to bend a bit, too. An example? If you don’t want your child to go on a solo date quite yet, suggest a group outing with a few more friends.
This is going to be awkward, but it is important that you be the grown-up in this situation. You want to be an active participant in your child’s dating life — however strange that may sound. That means bucking up and acting as a chaperone (if age appropriate) and insisting on meeting your child’s date before they go out. Host a new boyfriend or girlfriend and their family for dinner. Do remember though that there’s a fine line; while staying involved is important, you don’t want to invade your teenager’s privacy. It is okay to monitor social media, but you should draw a hard line at diary diving and stealth spying. You want to be a part of this new stage, so your child knows you support them. But if you betray their trust, you will do more damage than good.
It is time to lay it all out on the table. Yes, you are keeping the lines of communication open. But have you had “the talk”? You may stumble through your words, and you may not say all the right things, but it is important to be both gentle and completely honest in your approach. If your child thinks they are mature enough to date, then they have to understand the real, grown-up consequences of their actions. By now, your child probably understands the basics of the birds and the bees, but it is your responsibility to ensure they grasp the more elusive concept of consent.
Your teenager is eventually going to want to start dating. You can either be amenable to this stage and offer advice and guidance, or, you can be strict, rigid, and closed off. (You know the right course of action here.) It’s a fine balance, but you can still lay down the law and be your child’s go-to advisor. It won’t always be easy, and you will not always have the right answers, but if you lead with love, you will be on the right track. Good luck to you — and your teenager!
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