When teens start dating, many parents aren’t sure what to expect. Dating doesn’t look the same as it did when you and I were in high school. Boys and girls interact differently. It may seem scary, but dating can be a great way to train your teen how to relate with with the opposite sex in a way that lines up with his values. In this article, I’ll help you set and enforce boundaries for dating, while keeping the lines of communication open.
Before They Start Dating
Who your child dates will determine who your child marries one day. In the meantime, parents have decisions to make about the “ifs” and “whens” of dating. Clarify your values and boundaries for dating, well before your teen gets involved in a relationship. As you determine your comfort level, don’t let your fears override common sense. You don’t need to assume the worst about your child. Your boundaries can be protective, but they also need to allow your teen to learn and experience how to engage with the opposite sex in a way that matches their values.
Before your teen goes on his first date, clearly communicate the boundaries and the consequences for breaking those rules. Let your teen knows what to expect. Then, keep communication lines open. Be sure your kids know they can always talk to you about ANYTHING, especially the sensitive stuff. No topic should be off the table.
While They Are Dating
Teens have a strong need to socialize. They will find a way to connect. Even though your teen may be spending more time with the person he’s dating, be sure to schedule time just for you and your teen to get together and talk. Don’t stop talking about dating once your teen gets a boyfriend or girlfriend. Continue to be open to all kinds of conversation topics, even the uncomfortable ones. When your teen does come to talk to you, don’t shame her. Instead, be a safe place to talk and solve problems together.
Greet your teen at the door when he or she comes home from a date. Get to know their girlfriend or boyfriend. Schedule family events that the significant other can comfortably attend. You don’t have to invite this person to your family reunion, but you should create opportunities to speak into your child’s life, and speak into the life of the person your teen is spending time with. You want to influence the influencer in your child’s life but you can’t do that if you don’t create opportunities to talk.
As your teen dates, your boundaries will likely be put to the test––curfews will be broken, schedules will be violated. They will try to talk and text at times when you’ve said “no.” It’s okay to stick to your established boundaries and consequences. Your teen knows when they’ve crossed a line. It’s up to you to follow through with the consequences you originally discussed. But no matter what, communicate your love for your teen, even when they violate your rules.
What If It’s Already Bad News? What Do I Do Now?
I hear from parents all the time whose teens are making mistakes in dating. It’s painful to watch your daughter date a horrible guy or find out your son has been dating behind your back.
My daughter dated a loser in high school. I understand how difficult it is to watch your child make poor choices. But even when they are doing things you don’t like, it’s vital to stay connected to your teen. Talk to your son or daughter about who they are dating, ask questions, and find out the reasons for their choices. I had to take the time to discover why my wonderful daughter had chosen to spend time with this boy who I didn’t approve of. He didn’t seem like much to me, but he had something I didn’t possess. Often our kids choose someone who fits a need or fills in what’s missing at home––time, attention, affection, approval. Find out what your teens really needs, or they will leave home to go get that need met.
Hey moms and dads … you’ve got a choice to make. You’ve got to determine where you land on allowing your son or daughter to date, and at what age, in today’s sexually charged culture. Perhaps the focus doesn’t need to be as much on controlling dating—determining the “ifs” and “whens” for your teen—as much as it needs to be about training them to engage with the opposite sex in such a way that is in line with their principles and values.
Dating isn’t what it used to be and the culture isn’t like it was when we grew up. So the standards that you’ve been holding onto for years may need to be reviewed to ensure that they are practical, protective, and allowing your teen to be pursuant of knowing more and more about relationships with the opposite sex. Your guidelines in this area will one day determine who your future son or daughter-in-law will be. So be wise.