It’s happened. You thought the day would never come, but here it is: our teenager is going on their first date. While they may be bursting at the seams with excitement, you may be bursting with fear and concern. Could your teen be ready to start dating? Wait, are you even ready?!
Dating has changed quite a bit since you were a teen. It’s a lot more complicated in today’s technology-driven world. But, the basics regarding safety and boundaries are still the same and can help you foster a healthy and open dialogue with your teen about dating.
Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, shares four things every parent can do to help guide their teen through today’s dating landscape.
1. Keep the Conversation Going
Although they aren’t your little one anymore and you feel you might have little to no influence on their lives—think again. As a parent, you still matter more than anyone else in their lives.
Check-in with your teen and be open to a variety of topics. Use those conversations to talk about values, such as honesty, respect, trust, even about sexual activity, and what you expect of them and how they treat others. Discuss with them the differences between a healthy relationship and the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship.
“You should, as a parent, have values, and slowly instill those values in your children,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Be open with them. You have the influence to help them understand things and feel comfortable to ask questions when they don’t.”
2. Set Ground Rules
Although teens need the freedom to try new things and make their own decisions, they still need boundaries from you. Rules can give your teen a sense of security and an understanding of the importance of boundaries, a skill they’ll need throughout their lives.
“Teen brains are changing rapidly,” Dr. Adelayo said. “While your teen may be able to make thoughtful decisions, your guidance still matters. Rules should not only let them know what not to do, but also what to do.”
Here are some general safety rules:
- Meet their dates and know who their parents are
- Establish a curfew
- Know their itinerary
- Set age limits for dating
- Discuss technology use, expectations, and potential dangers (i.e., sexting or sending nude pictures)
- Regulate the use of alcohol and drugs
- Talk about what to do if they don’t feel safe
3. Privacy is Earned, Not Given
Nothing can irk a teen more than feeling like they have no privacy. While you needn’t read every text message or social media message, setting rules around privacy might be necessary if your teen has demonstrated a history of untrustworthiness.
“Kids are a work-in-progress, so work with them to clearly indicate the level of privacy you are willing to give them,” Dr. Adelayo said. “If they prove to be trustworthy, you can continue to extend to them more privacy and freedoms.”
4. Be Available and Step In When Necessary
While you don’t want to be "that" parent, it is important to help out when it’s necessary. Don’t hesitate to step in if you notice unhealthy changes in behaviors or actions. If they’ve recently broken up with someone or are being pressured to do something that makes them uncomfortable, you can help provide guidance that they can carry with them in future relationships.
Although it may cause you some heartburn and a few extra gray hairs, dating should be a fun and growing opportunity for your teen. This is a chance for them to get to know different people, build valuable social skills and gain a deeper understanding of themselves.
If you’ve noticed your teen is beginning to lie to cover up risky behavior or is engaged in an unhealthy relationship that is affecting their health and well-being, ask your teen’s pediatrician or a licensed behavioral health specialist for help.