Teen dating is very different today than it was when we started dating many years ago.
With the introduction of social media, the dating world can be more exciting but also more complicated and challenging.
As your teen becomes more social or mentions someone they’re interested in, it’s time to start talking to them about dating.
We need to educate ourselves about the typical ages and stages of teen dating.
Early on, teens start to have crushes and might form a couple. However, typically they won’t spend time together outside of school yet.
In middle school, teens start to socialize outside of school, but mainly via social media. This is a tricky time for parents, as our children can spend many hours’ chatting’ to their crush and form quite significant relationships.
After this stage, they might start going out on group dates. They’ll hang out at the mall or skatepark, and there will be lots of hand-holding.
In the last two years of high school, teens start spending time alone together.
You might like reading Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transactions Into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
Here’s how you can help your teenager deal with dating.
Recognize that this is a new stage in their lives.
As much as we’d like to keep our children small and protected, this is a normal part of growing up, and we need to acknowledge it.
If they show interest, then it’s time to recognize that they’re growing up and moving into a new stage in life. If you try to ignore it, they won’t feel comfortable talking to you and asking you questions.
Work together to set the rules.
Discuss safe dating with your teen and find a middle ground.
Ask them what they think are fair rules regarding the type of dates they can go on at what age. What their curfew should be.
They may not want to share their personal information about the date they go on, but you should agree on the fundamentals about dating to keep them (and their date) safe.
When teens first start dating, there are several ‘rules’ that we set. For example, they can choose where they go, but I will drop and collect them. Or if they’re old enough to drive, then you want to meet their date in person first.
Discuss appropriate age-related dates.
Every teen will start dating at a different age. If your teen starts dating early, then discuss what types of dates are appropriate.
Perhaps they can go on group dates, to begin with. Maybe start with daytime dates only.
As they grow older, this will most likely change to movie dates and one-on-one dates.
Encourage group dates.
A wonderful way for teens to start dating is by double dating or going on group dates.
This makes a date less intimidating and also provides them with help to manage an uncomfortable or difficult situation.
Talk to your teen frequently.
Just like all parenting isn’t a once-off discussion, you need to keep checking in with your teen.
I don’t mean that we should pry and ask personal or specific questions about their dates.
However, they need to know that we are available if they have questions or concerns about dating.
If they’re not comfortable talking to us, then let them know that there are other trusted resources that we can share with them.
Discuss social media usage.
Social media can be great, but it can also be a platform where teens make poor choices.
You need to discuss sexual safety as well as emotional safety online.
Teens can feel removed from a situation if it happens online. They need to understand that what they share online is there forever and can be shared repeatedly with other people that the message was not intended for.
Teens need to realize that dating is a personal experience between two people and should not be shared with everyone, especially on social media.
Get to know their date.
Just as you want to know their friends, it’s essential to get to know who they’re dating. Invite them to come in and chat.
The older your teenager, the less opportunity you’ll get to meet their friends as they’re more independent.
If you set these rules when they first start dating, they’ll feel more comfortable doing this when they’re older.
It also shows them that you care and this is important to you.
Encourage dating someone the same age.
Encourage your child to date someone their age. If your child starts dating someone older, you need to discuss that they might be ready for things or allowed to do some things that they’re not ready for yet.
You need to discuss the legal age for having sex and drinking.
Your child needs to understand that they are allowed to say ‘no’ if they’re not comfortable participating in something that older teens are doing. It’s not always easy.
A one-year age gap is considered appropriate in elementary/middle school, with a two-year age gap being appropriate in high school. More than that, and the maturity levels will generally be too different.
Talk about consent.
This is probably the most important conversation you will need to have with your teen.
You need to discuss consent with your son and daughter.
As much as we like to bury our heads in the sand and believe that our teens won’t have sex, we cannot rely on that.
We need to be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations with them and prepare them for eventually having a healthy sexual relationship.
You’ve hopefully had several conversations about sex and have discussed why it’s important to have protected sex with both your son and daughter. Now it’s time to discuss consent.
Teens should not feel pressured to do something they’re not yet ready for. Just because they say, ‘yes’ to one thing does not mean that they have to say ‘yes’ to everything.
Educate them on the age of consent in your state.
They must know that they’re allowed to start slow and should stop if they or their partner are not ready to go any further.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t like spending time with them anymore. They’re just not ready to move forward yet.
They need to understand that they have their whole life ahead of them, and taking things slowly is the best way to get to know your partner.
If your teenager wants to wait for marriage, that’s awesome. They should be allowed to take things as far as they feel comfortable and be honest that it’s not going to go any further.
If their partner isn’t happy with that, then, unfortunately, they’re not the right partner for them.
Help them recognize manipulative language. If someone says, “If you loved me, you’d do this,” or “We did this before, so why won’t’ you do it now?, then they don’t have your best interest at heart.
One final note is to let them know that just because they might have tried something once, this does not mean they have to do that again. This goes for sex, drugs, alcohol, anything really.
Your teen might have tried something and then realized that they were not ready for it or never want to do that again.
They should also be told that consent is ongoing. You’re allowed to say ‘no’ even if you have tried something in the past.
As with all parenting, the best way to have a close, open and honest relationship with your children is through communication.
Having many short meaningful conversations with them lets them know that you’re aware of what’s going on in their lives. It shows you care and makes it easier for them to come to you with questions or concerns.
Creating an open line of communication, which can involve uncomfortable but important conversations, is key when your teenager becomes more social.