Remember the old television program, The Dating Game? The host would introduce some bubbly contestant who, through a series of really ridiculous questions, would have to choose between three eligible bachelors that remain hidden to everyone but the audience. At the end of the show, she would make her selection from the bachelors and accompany them on a date … sight unseen.
We’re entertained by the ridiculous notion that someone would blindly stumble into the dating scene. But without clear boundaries and expectations, our teens are in a similar position. It’s our job as parents to teach our kids to approach dating with responsibility and discretion.
Unfortunately, there’s not a cut-and-dry formula. I’ve known couples that have dated since they were fifteen, and have been married for decades. I’ve also known couples that have gone the courtship route, and testify to its success. When it comes to teen romance it’s not the style that we should concern ourselves with. What is important is nurturing and protecting each individual child during these important times in life.
Write the Playbook
Before your child even reaches their teen years, sit down with your spouse and write out the family playbook for guy-girl relationships. Both mom and dad may have strong feelings one way or the other about certain aspects of dating. Now is the time to talk about guidelines you will both establish and reinforce.
When you consider the type of dating you will allow, make sure you consider the personality of your child. An introverted son or daughter might flourish within a courtship setting. Try to put those restrictions on a social butterfly, and it’s a recipe for rebellion! Remember, there is no wrong or right way to frame the dating scene. Arranged marriages have flourished for thousand of years without the help of our modern dating psychology. Then again, successful relationships have grown out of close friendships and blind dates. Don’t get hung up on the style of dating you want to see. Focus on behaviors for positive interactions between guys and gals in your home.
Perhaps the most often question I hear from parents on this issue is what age should my teen date? To which I reply, you tell me! Choosing the appropriate age to allow your kids to date one-on-one is a decision that parents need to make in light of their unique family situation.
I told my kids that when they turned sixteen and had their own transportation, that’s when they could go on individual dates. Studies have shown that when kids start dating at the age of twelve, they have a 90% chance of losing their virginity before marriage. When they postpone romantic engagements till sixteen, the statistic drops down to 25%.
But don’t get stuck on a number. As a parent, you know what’s best for your child. If he or she is immature at sixteen and has had trouble with dating in the past, then consider pushing that back to seventeen or eighteen. What’s important is that you and your spouse decide together what the playbook for dating is going to be.
Share the Playbook
Once you have established the guidelines for dating, share those with your kids. Clue them in to the rules and explain why they’re in place. To get you started, here are some boundaries I implemented in my home:
- Nothing good happens after midnight. End a date before then.
- If a boyfriend or girlfriend is in your room, leave the door open.
- Boys, treat girls with respect. She is someone’s daughter.
- Girls, don’t give your heart away on the first date. Have fun, but be reserved.
- If you need to end a relationship, you must do it in person.
- Don’t stay in the car. Once you put it in park, get out and walk into the house.
That’s a short list. Trust me, I had plenty more household rules when it came to dating! But these will give you some ideas to develop your own boundaries. By the way, don’t assume your teens know the rules. Be open and honest with them about dating expectations.
When rules are broken, be consistent about discipline. Let your kids know the consequences, and carry them out. A word of caution—never forbid a relationship as a punishment. Forcing a break-up will only backfire and drive your teen further into unhealthy patterns. Your son or daughter might chase after that person all the more, as a way to have control. Or, they could resent you and blame you for their relationship issues. Instead, when the rules are broken, dish out a personal consequence. Be open and share your concerns if you feel that the person your teen is dating is less than desirable. But if your son comes home with alcohol on his breath, or your daughter admits a sexual mistake, the consequence shouldn’t be a broken relationship. Love is a powerful emotion, and you don’t want to force your teen to make a choice between you and the person they care about.
When navigating to the complicated subject of teen romance, it helps to hear from other parents about their successes and failure. On the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast this week, we’ve invited Tim Kimmel to share some insights for dealing with raging hormones, marriage talks, and keeping kids pure. Tim’s sense of humor and practical knowledge is a great resource for any parent needing a little guidance.
For me, the excitement of the old Dating Game television show was seeing whether the contestant picked a stud or a dud. And that’s how the dating scene with your kids will be. They’ll make some good choices, and occasionally, they’ll make some bad ones. Our job is to make sure they know one from the other.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.