You might have firm convictions about at what age a teen should be allowed to date, but it’s often far less clear whether your teen is ready for dating – or for that matter, what exactly constitutes a date.
How your teen handles personal relationships should give you an idea about whether he or she is ready for a dating relationship, said Melissa McClain, community education programs coordinator for School Health Services at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“Communication about relationships should start a lot younger than you might think,” said Melissa, who travels to area schools to talk about healthy behaviors and wellness.
“The same lessons they learn about how to communicate with others, how to be a friend, build trust, set boundaries and be respectful, translate to dating situations. Teaching those interpersonal skills is so important.”
If your teen has that solid foundation, here are some other things to consider, according to Melissa:
- You teen may have different ideas than you about what defines a date or what it means to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. For some teens, it might be about hanging out at a school football game, going out with a group that includes a romantic interest or going to someone’s house to watch a movie. These are good ways to build up to dating.
- Create an environment where your teen is comfortable talking about a budding relationship. Acknowledge their feelings and don’t minimize the romance or a breakup by saying it’s just puppy love. Their feelings are powerful and leave lasting memories.
- If your teen is absorbed in a new relationship, emphasize the need for a balanced life.
“They might want to talk to that person all the time, and be with them all the time, but it’s important to still see their friends, to participate in sports and do well in school, ” Melissa said.
“Often, it’s inevitable they break up. If the child has lost friends, lost interest in activities or sports, or their grades have slipped, now we’re in repair mode. It’s hard to reintegrate.”
If your teen is falling into a relationship where the other person insists on being together always, urge your child to get comfortable saying no, she said.
- Warn your teen about sexting. Melissa said some teens she has talked to say sexting makes them feel like they are in a grown-up relationship. Kids need to know there are emotional and legal ramifications.
“They are prosecuting these cases. It’s a very serious thing,” she said. “In addition, these pictures can end up in places that kids don’t even know exist. And what happens when you break up? If you have sent those pictures, where might they go?”
- Talk to your teen about physical boundaries and about alcohol and drug use. Even if they wave you off, just keep talking, Melissa said.
“Kids are often embarrassed to talk about these things, but they’re listening,” she said. “I tell parents, it’s like the birds and bees conversation. It’s not a one-time conversation.”