Does your son or daughter have a crush? Are you terrified that they want to start dating even though they just entered middle school? Many kids develop crushes and a desire to find a boyfriend or girlfriend as they turn thirteen or fourteen. For some parents, this may seem too early. However, trying to prevent your teen from finding a significant other can set up an unhealthy relationship between the both of you in the future.
It is better to come to terms with the fact that your teen started dating and take steps to prepare them for their relationships to come. If you can set boundaries and teach good habits when they’re just holding hands and hanging out on group dates, then your teen will be prepared when they’re old enough to spend time alone with a romantic partner. Follow this guide to get off on the right foot.
Talk Through Your Expectations for Your Teen
The writers at Better Homes & Gardens encourage parents to have a discussion with their teens about parental expectations. The key word is discussion. Make sure that you spend time listening to them and even letting them take the lead on the discussion, so that you are better able to understand their perspective.
For example, leading with a rule like “you can’t date until you’re 16,” shows that you look to restrict your teen and limit their dating experience. Not only is your teen likely to push back, but that rule is also incredibly difficult to enforce. They may become more likely to lie to you or begin sneaking around to date someone they want. By allowing your teen to explain what they think is fair; and what they want in the terms of dating flexibility, you can agree on certain points and then negotiate others.
Familiarize Yourself With Social Media
Today’s parents have significantly more challenges than those of the past few decades. Not only do they have to keep up with phone calls and texting, but they also need to track which social media channels are popular. For example, TikTok has taken over the web in just a few months. If you’re not keeping up, then you might not be able to see what your teen is doing.
Establish an agreement with your teen for social media and smartphone transparency. This might mean limiting the hours that your teen can have their phone or setting up check-ins to see what content they post. Your teen is a tech native, which means they are likely to know more about hiding things and setting up content filters than you realize.
Address the “Why” Behind Your Rules
If your teen is prone to rebelling against your rules, then set aside time to explain why you are setting guidelines and why certain rules are important. You can also use this time to explain why certain dating practices or ideas are problematic.
For example, you can use your phone guidelines to explain the dangers of sending or receiving naked photos in both the short-term and the long-term. You can tie the rule to a lesson about how nothing truly leaves the internet. This provides context to your teen about why they should care and ideally makes your rules seem less arbitrary. You want them to know that you are looking out for their best interests.
Always Meet Your Teen’s Date
While most parents will meet their child’s date the first time, it’s a good habit to meet them for every single date if possible. Note: this may not always be possible if they are meeting after school before coming home.
Meeting your teen’s date each time allows you to get to know them as a person. You can ask them questions about school or their plans for the night. You can also review the rules and boundaries each time to reinforce them.
If your teen started dating at a younger age, you can use their dependency on you to your advantage. You likely have to drive your teen from place-to-place, so you can offer to give their date a ride and use that time to get to know them. You can also meet the date’s parents to establish common rules for the young couple to follow.
It is never too early to bring up the concept of consent to your child. You may think about consent solely as a sexual practice, but it starts in the early stages of dating. Your teen does not have to consent to a kiss if they don’t feel comfortable. They do not have to consent to a certain hand placement if they do not want their date to touch them there. Teaching your teen the power that comes with communication and self-confidence can help them say no, regardless of whether they are waving off an uncomfortable hug or rejecting a sexual advance.
You can also use this time to talk about sex. Nine percent of young adults report having had sex before the age of 13. While you may be able to start out with a general overview of consent and protection when your teen first starts dating, you will eventually need to have more serious talks about sex as they get older.
Understand That Dating is a Process
One conversation isn’t enough to set boundaries for your teen and establish healthy dating guidelines. You will need to check in with your teen multiple times throughout the year now that they are dating or entering a relationship. During these talks, review the rules that you mutually agreed on and make modifications when needed. You can also agree to check in each time your teen starts dating someone new to learn about them and establish the relationship.
Either way, make a habit of talking to your teen so they get used to it and won’t ignore the message if there is a serious issue that you need to address.
Prepare Your Teen With Healthy Relationships Courses
You don’t need to be a parenting expert to help now that your teen started dating. Along with setting guidelines and best practices, you can also prepare them for what’s to come with our healthy relationships courses. These workshops by Family Resources are free to attend for youth ages 15-25. Your teen will receive a $50 gift card for completing the course. Attendees learn about communication, setting boundaries, and establishing realistic relationship expectations.
See if your teen is able to attend any of these courses or will be able to in the future.