Teens and Dating

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.



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.

The Four Attitudes of Teenagers

Nothing brings down the mood of your household any quicker than a teen whose outlook has gone south.  A bad attitude.  Stinkin’ thinkin’ can ruin anybody’s day.

At some point, every teen drives every parent crazy over a bad attitude.  The symptoms include (but aren’t limited to) the classic eye-roll, the angry outburst, the sarcastic retort, the very loud and long sigh, the cold shoulder, the hot temper, or the look your child gives you that declares, I think everything you’re saying right now is totally ridiculous.

Some teens grow into their brash behaviors and wear them like a badge of honor.  Others pull a Jekyll and Hyde trick—one minute a sweet and caring child, the next an angry and arrogant teen.  You’re never quite sure which teen is going to show up.

Over the years, we’ve accommodated more than 2,500 kids at the Heartlight residential program.  I’ve definitely witnessed all the physical and verbal manifestations of a bad attitude.  While each child is unique, you can generally categorize the teenage mindset in one of four ways.  Recognizing which attitude our teen exhibits will help us address the behavior and find a peaceable resolution in our homes.


The child with angst demonstrates a constant dread—a fear of life and the world.  He hates going to school, is afraid of social events, or angry about the state of the world.  This outlook on life is common among kids who look around at the state of our culture—famine, war, disease, murder, inequality—and think, Hey, this is not right!  I don’t know if I really care about this world after all.  It’s a pretty crummy place.  So they develop an attitude of anguish and try to block out the world.  Even with their best efforts to remain shielded, they can’t help but express sorrow, worry and fear that spills over into other people’s lives.

For the child with angst, dad or mom, you have to put it all into perspective.  Show your teen that this world has good things to offer, as well.  Unfortunately, it’s the tragic and evil things that receive the majority of the spotlight in media.  Take time to point out the myriad of pure, noble, right, and true things happening all around the world.  Talk about the things worth celebrating.  Show your troubled son or daughter that life has more joy and happiness that what he or she can see at the moment.


Maybe you’ve noticed that there seem to be more anxious adolescents than ever.  Our society is silently producing more and more young people who are stressed, stretched, and strained.  They feel the concerns and pressures of parents, peers, or culture (and maybe a mixture of all three) and gain an attitude of self-doubt and apprehension.  This is the child that develops social qualms, has levels of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and lives in a state of fear about all the terrible things that could happen to them.  When you interact with them, they put off an air of restlessness and trouble.

Hey, a little anxiety is a great motivator.  Pressure can help us study harder, practice more and prepare better.  But too much worry and your teen can quickly spiral out of control.  If you see your child with these tendencies, give them the freedom to take a break.  At the dinner table, don’t talk about what needs to be done tomorrow or the problems of the day.  Instead, laugh.  Tell a story.  Watch TV.  Give your worried child an opportunity to breathe and escape the world that overwhelms them.  Assure your son or daughter that it’s okay to drop the tension once in awhile to relax and have fun.


If you have a teen with an angry attitude, you’re in good company!  At some point, every parent experiences the wrath of an angry child.  For a teenager, rage can be processed in a variety of ways.  I’ve seen irate kids punch holes in the drywall or bang their heads onto the floor in fury.  But I’ve also seen teens turn that anger inward, and become depressed, isolated and lonely.

In working with teens for over thirty years, I have discovered that all anger is an emotional response to an unmet need.  This need could be something important like wanting praise or acceptance, or it could be something trivial like not having a new phone or being grounded.  It’s important to realize that anger is not necessarily a bad thing.  Everybody gets fired up from time to time.  But an angry attitude should not be excused or ignored.  If you encounter a fiery flare up with your child, don’t match their temper with your own.  Instead, say something like … You’re coming off like you’re very angry.  Do you need some time to cool down?

If your teen turns their wrath into a cold shoulder, don’t abandon them.  Get them to open up and share what’s going on.  Also, dig into the “whys” of your child’s anger.  Are they mad about something in school?  Are they upset about a broken relationship?  Are they unhappy with some decisions they’ve made?  It’s not a good idea to isolate an angry child.  Getting at the root of your kid’s anger defuses the whole encounter and allows discussions to take place on a calmer level.


The arrogant attitude is the one that can really get under your skin.  You see this attitude when kids say, Mom, you’re dumb.  Or, Dad, you can’t understand.  Man, makes your blood boil, doesn’t it?  But this cocky attitude is a sign of insecurity, a sense that a teen is not measuring up so they have to put on a false bravado to mask it.

We invited Melody Rhode to address this specific area of arrogance on this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast.  As an expert in the field of counseling, she offers advice about dealing with overconfidence in our children.  I hope you’ll listen in as Melody explains the psychology of attitudes and how teens change their emotional state as a way of coping with their changing world.

If you’re living with a child in need of daily attitude adjustments, you are not alone!  It is difficult (and even maddening at times), but with God’s grace you can get through it.  We shouldn’t excuse a teen’s behavior or coddle their bad attitudes.  Instead, the most important thing to teach your teen is that they can choose their attitude.  They don’t have to be controlled by their emotions.  They have the power to think correctly and adjust their attitude.

And that’s a powerful lesson for us all.


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 helpful 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.

Perfection is Impossible

Have you ever taken a drive through a planned community and gawked at the homes in an upscale neighborhood?  Whether grand or understated, there’s a sense of perfection.  Lawns are manicured.  Picket fences line the streets.  You might see a European SUV in the driveway with 2.5 kids getting out after soccer practice.  The golden retriever runs up to the family and greets them.  It’s considered the “American Dream.”  A painting right off the canvas of Norman Rockwell.  Life as it should be.  Perfection.

You don’t have to watch this scene for long to see what’s simmering right beneath the surface.  Perfection is an illusion.  The kids begin bickering.  The dog digs up the newly-planted flower bed.  The parents take verbal shots at each other.

We long for heaven on earth, but we don’t live in a perfect world.  So, how do we create an environment in which our teens and parents know they are accepted regardless of their flaws?

As parents, we want great things for our kids.  Our goal is to ensure their life is much better than the one we grew up with.  That’s why we try so hard to push them toward excellence.  It’s often not enough that your teen made the football team.  We want him to be the quarterback and captain!  And your daughter’s science fair project received an honorable mention, but what could she have done better to get first place?  It doesn’t take more than one or two instances like this until your teen begins wondering whether he or she did something wrong.  There’s a fine line between encouraging excellence and creating unreasonable expectations.  When we place unattainable standards before kids, we always risk moving the expectation so far that the kids give up.

So, what does that defeat look like?  Your teen might show that he has given up in a few different ways.  Some kids will begin rebelling to prove they are in control of their own lives.  Others will become hyper-aware of the high standards and will turn to drastic measures to achieve them (like the ballerina who becomes anorexic to increase her chances of being cast in the leading role).

Teens rarely need to be told they aren’t living up to a standard.  Be sure that you communicate in advance the risks and rewards of pushing for the top, and make it clear that you love them irrespective of their accomplishments.  Once you have the conversation to let your teen know what is expected and what the consequences are if they don’t meet that expectation, they will understand when those consequences begin happening.  They might not like it, but it won’t come as a shock to them.  Even more important, they won’t feel like they are being pushed away.  Kids hear criticism from every area of their lives:  teachers at school, peers online, celebrities and advertisements on television … they don’t need one more voice telling them that they aren’t living up to the standard.  What they need is for their parents to approach the symptoms in a way that doesn’t damage them or make them move away from you relationally.

When kids turn 12 or 13, they realize that the world isn’t perfect.  The awe and reverence they once held for their parents begins to fade.  Most kids who turn away from their parents do so because they feel like their parents can’t understand why life is so hard for them.  This illusive pursuit of perfection has a lot to do with their spirit of resignation.

If you have never shared your personal flaws with your kids, they haven’t had an opportunity to see what it’s like to live with imperfection.  Instead, they think that faultlessness is normal.  The first time they sprout a pimple they’re ready to freak out!  By sharing your inadequacies, you allow your teen to connect with you in a different way.  It will reaffirm your teen’s understanding and acceptance of himself, while drawing him into relationship with you as well.

There’s nothing you can do to make me love you more and there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less.  This concept will allow your teens to be themselves around you.  As soon as your teen thinks they aren’t measuring up to your expectations, they will become frustrated.  And with that frustration, your teen will move farther away from you.  Instead of increasing this sense of shame, you have an opportunity to affirm your relationship with your teen.  Now, don’t take these principles to an extreme!  Just because you accept your teen always doesn’t mean that everything is acceptable.  There needs to be appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior.

Parents often desire to create the highest standard for their kids in order to raise the bar to its highest level so their teens accomplish great things.  On its face, this isn’t a bad concept.  However, when reality sets in and teens are unable to reach this goal, they can fall into self-protective behavior and, sometimes, self-destructive behavior.

On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, Marriage and Family Therapist Melanie Rhode will explain how perfectionism is complicated by some of the social networking tools that teens use today.  These technological toys allow teens to engage in self-protection by presenting themselves in a way that filters their errors and imperfections.  Self-protection stunts a person’s ability to grow and learn from the realities of life that beset us all.

If you’re a mom or dad of a teen, don’t wait until your kids are adults to unveil your flaws, mistakes and inadequacies.  Get real … now.  It will draw them to you and it will cause them to relax.  Plus, they will see your successes and understand that it’s possible to have a good life even when they’ve messed up.

Yes, there are consequences for our behavior.  Yes, you need to set standards for your kids.  But when you allow them the opportunity to see into your own life and recognize that perfection is impossible, you will give them the hope they need to keep striving for the best.


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 helpful 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.