This is a topic which can raise strong emotions in parents which is completely normal. It is scary to think of your son or daughter starting to date. Of course, our minds often go to the worst case scenarios - they will date someone who is no good, they will start having sex, they will get pregnant, they will shut me out completely as a parent. All of these are obviously legitimate fears, however, most teenage dating does not go this way.
There is no "best" age at which teens should begin dating and there is no "best" way for a parent to support their teenager as they enter into the dating stage. However, there are a few tips to remember which may be of help. First, it is important to remember that generally girls mature faster than boys and therefore teenage girls generally become interested in dating at a younger age than do boys. This also means that often times, teenage girls may date boys who are older than them (note that I said "boys" and not "men"). Second, it is important to remember that dating is a new, exciting and sometimes heartbreaking experience for teenagers. Being open to the process, not overly critical of your child's choice of a boyfriend or girlfriend (unless of course you believe they will cause your teen harm), and supporting them is important so that they are more likely to come to you if they have questions or concerns related to dating. Finally, remember that your teen will likely have many boyfriends or girlfriends and that is okay and normal. During the teenage years they are not picking out their lifelong mate - they are just looking to get to know someone on a new level and engage in a relationship which is emotionally (and sometimes physically) intimate. The dating process will help them discover what it means to be in a more intimate relationship which will benefit them when the time comes to actually look for someone with whom they may be in a long term committed relationship.
One concern I have heard voiced by parents of teens who are beginning to date is how much freedom they should give their teenager and should they allow their teenager and their boyfriend / girlfriend to ever be alone. Both questions are tricky and somewhat specific to each family's situation. Some things to keep in mind when making this decision in your situation are:
- Is my teenager generally responsible?
- Does my teenager generally make healthy decisions?
- Do I know at least a little about my teen's boyfriend or girlfriend?
- Do I think my teenager will let me know if something is wrong?
- Does my teenager generally have good boundaries and decent self esteem?
- What parameters can I put in place to allow my teen a little freedom which can gradually increase as we feel this situation out further?
If your teenager is generally trustworthy with decent self esteem, they will likely be okay with a little freedom. However, if your teenager is generally not where they are supposed to be or does not come in when they are supposed to - it is likely that they will continue with the same pattern when out with their boyfriend / girlfriend. Particularly with teenage girls, self esteem can play an important role in dating behavior. Girls who have very low self esteem are at risk to be taken advantage of by males. They are generally in a position where they just want to feel good about themselves and connect with others and often will let others take advantage of them in an effort to get this connection. Allowing themselves to be used by others can be a devastating experience for teens so it is important, as a parent, to be aware of such situations.
In general, it is ideal for you as the parent to know the people your teen chooses to date without being overly critical of them. Invite them to the house for dinner, allow them to hang out with your teen and watch movies, play video games, listen to music, etc. as a means of getting to know them without being overbearing and overprotective.
Okay...now for the toughest of them all...what about sex? We all know of situations where teens in high school and sometimes even middle school become pregnant and this is one of a parent's biggest fears. The reality is that there is no way for a parent to stop their child from having sex - if they really want to do it, they will find a way to do it. However, it is possible for a parent to have a thoughtful discussion with their teenager about having sex and to attempt to put some parameters around their dating relationship which may help them see there are other things they can be doing within their dating relationship. For starters, it is always best if parents can have an open conversation about sex with their children. It allows children to see that their parents are not living in the dark ages and that they are not so uncomfortable by the subject that they cannot even talk about it. In addition, it opens the door so that should an issue come up with your teen related to sex, they may be more willing to come to you rather than try to hide it. In addition, giving your teen ideas about how they might want to spend their time while out with their boyfriend / girlfriend can be helpful so that their time is more structured. This helps them to see that they can have fun doing various activities with their boyfriend / girlfriend and that the relationship does not need to be built around physical intimacy.
There are not clear guidelines for teen dating and there are no clear cut answers for how to help your teen navigate the process smoothly and safely. The above suggestions and tips can help calm the waters, however, it is inevitable there will be some waves during the teenage dating years since this experience can be both very exciting and painful for teenagers.
For more information on Life Coaching or coaching for parents please visit http://elite-life-coaching.com or email Karen@elite-life-coahing.com
My name is Karen Vincent. I am a Certified Life Coach as well as a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with a Masters Degree from Boston University. I have worked with teenagers / adolescents and their parents for the last 15 years in a variety of settings, including outpatient therapy, specialized schools, and in the home.
I have developed and conducted numerous parenting classes and support workshops specific to parents of teens. I have also created and presented training for professional staff including teachers, therapists and counselors who work with adolescents in Massachusetts, Connecticut and in New York City.
In my work, I partner with parents (usually through phone calls) who are experiencing difficulties in connecting with their teenage children and who are struggling to manage social, emotional or behavioral issues which arise during the teenage years. Through working with me, parents are able to:
• work through any self doubt they are having about their parenting
• develop action plans for addressing their areas of concern
• develop new ways of parenting their teens effectively
• discover new ways of connecting effectively with their teens
• eliminate sleepless nights and worries while Restoring Peace of Mind During the Teenage Years
Please call for a free Coaching Consultation: 508-261-7087
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