Is your teen ready to date? 6 things to think about
August 05, 2022
Teen boy sitting in a restaurant booth with a date

    Is your teen ready to date? 6 things to think about

    Your teen wants to start dating. Now what? While many aspects of dating are the same as they’ve always been, it’s a different world than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Dating can come with some tough conversations, but it can also provide opportunities to learn about healthy relationships and what to look for in a life partner down the road.

    Dr. An Pham, adolescent medicine specialist, offers some things to think about as your teen enters this new stage of growth and maturity.

    1. Encourage acceptance and open communication

    Try to reserve judgment about whom your teen would like to date (as long as they’re age-appropriate), and instead focus on why. Are they genuinely interested in another person? Is it peer pressure? It can also be helpful to ask what dating means to them. It may be less – or more – serious than what you had in mind. Listen with your full attention and be accepting of what they have to say.

    Your teen may show interest in someone you wouldn’t have imagined them dating in terms of appearance, hobbies or even gender. If it’s a healthy, respectful relationship, try to show your support. They need time and space to figure out what they’re looking for in the short and long term.

    1. Establish expectations

    Teens mature physically before they do socially and emotionally. Help them set guidelines as they begin dating, including:

    • Age limits – Set some rules about the acceptable dating age range for your teen. There’s a big difference in maturity level in the early teen years versus the later ones – and from one teen to another. It’s also essential that your teen understands the laws in your state. If a teen over the age of 18 has a sexual relationship with a younger teen, they could face fines and/or jail time.
    • House rules – Talk in advance about expectations when having teens at your house. Does an adult need to be home? Do doors need to remain open? Do the same rules apply when your teen visits other homes?
    • Meeting the parents – Get to know the person your teen would like to date. This can include inviting them over for dinner, simply being introduced before the first date or anything in between. This will allow you to ask them a few questions, learn who they are, and show your respect and support.
    • Itinerary and curfew – Set the expectation that you need to know where your teen will be and with whom. It’s also a good idea to set a specific curfew time, with consequences if it isn’t followed.

    “Rules” don’t have to be one way only. Discuss how you can respect your child in this process too. Allow a degree of privacy while keeping your finger on the pulse of what they’re doing and when.

    1. Talk about technology dangers

    Gone are the days of having to call a love interest’s house and chat with their parent while waiting for them to come to the phone. Cell phones now allow direct and quick access to almost everyone and everything.

    Make sure your child understands the dangers associated with today’s technology. Photos and messages can quickly land with unintended recipients and lead to shame and embarrassment. Meeting and chatting with others online – or on dating apps – can provide a false sense of security and intimacy. And social media is a topic all to itself! Talk about the dangers related to sharing personal information, arranging in-person meetups and other aspects of communicating electronically.

    1. Rules for respect and safety

    Discuss your family values – and your teen’s personal ones – with an emphasis on the importance of respect and safety in any relationship. This includes showing up on time and using manners not only with the person they’re dating but their parents, family members and friends too.

    It’s essential that teens, no matter their gender, understand the importance of consent. They should stay true to their beliefs and build confidence around resisting pressure from partners or peers. Similarly, they must respect their partner’s wishes and not coerce them to participate in physical intimacy or anything else they’re not comfortable with. You can teach your child the different aspects of consent, such as:

    • Freely given – Doing something sexual with someone is a decision that should be made without pressure or manipulation, and in a clear state of mind (not under the influence of alcohol or drugs).
    • Reversible – Anyone can change their mind about what they want to do, at any time, even if they’ve done it before or are in the middle of a sexual activity.
    • Informed – Be honest. Someone can only consent to something if they know the truth. For example, if their partner says they’ll use a condom and they don’t, it’s not consent.
    • Enthusiastic – If someone isn’t truly into it but is going along with it because they feel it’s expected, it’s not consent.
    • Specific – Saying yes to one thing at one time doesn’t mean they consent to other activities or even the same activity at another time.
    1. Don’t shy away from difficult topics

    Sex must be addressed with teens, even if it makes for an awkward conversation. Many teens describe their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sex. Kids learn bits and pieces from friends, movies and other sources along the way, but the only way to make sure they’re receiving accurate information is to address it yourself. Make sure they understand the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, emotional vulnerability and more. Be honest, keep it positive and answer their questions so they’ll feel comfortable coming to you in the future.

    1. Support them on the other side too

    Along with dating relationships comes opportunity for hurt feelings and heartache. Just as you prepared your teen during the early stages of dating, they’re likely to need support at the end too. Offer a listening ear and validate their feelings but try to avoid talking negatively about the relationship or other person. Be supportive as they process their emotions and learn from the experience. Providing fun distractions and reminding them they’re loved can be a great help too.

    Find more info on how our adolescent medicine team can support your teen’s health at CHoR.

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