“My Teen is Dating – What Do I Do?”

Having your teen enter the world of dating can cause anxiety for any parent. A dad’s instinct may be to think of ways to scare off his teen’s date, while a mom may want to grab binoculars and spy in the bushes. Though protecting your kids is important, open and nonjudgmental communication is the best tool to support your teen in making good dating decisions. With the right approach, parents have the power to help teens stick to their values, keep realistic expectations, and manage the highs and lows of dating.  

So what can parents do to support teens as they date?

1. Focus on the purpose

Ask your teen what they believe the purpose of dating is. When teens go into dating with a clear understanding of its objective, they are more likely to make rational decisions and avoid negative situations. Remind them that dating is about developing their relationship skills as well as getting to know what they want and need in a partner. If they date simply to fit in or to fill their craving for intimacy, they will likely be disappointed.

2. Discuss what healthy looks like

When parents talk to teens about dating, they often focus on rules such as, “No being out past 10,” or, “no drinking and driving.” An additional priority should be to talk to your teen about what healthy relationships look like. Remind them of the characteristics of supportive and long-lasting relationships including:

  • Trust

  • Mutual understanding

  • Communication

  • Respect

  • Honesty

  • Faithfulness

  • Praise

  • Maintaining interests outside of one another

3. Help them recognize abuse

Teach your teen the warning signs of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse such as:

  • Isolating them from friends and family

  • Insulting, degrading, or intimidating them

  • Cheating

  • Showing intimate pictures or “sexts” to others

  • “Gas-lighting” (when an abuser gets called out for their abuse and turns it around on the other person to make them think they’re crazy)

  • Hitting, kicking, grabbing, pushing, or biting

  • Stalking or constantly monitoring them

  • Guilting or coercing into sex or other acts

4. Build up boundaries

Encourage your teen to determine the behaviors that they’ll refuse to accept in relationships. Remind them to explain their boundaries to their date in the beginning so that expectations are clear from the get-go. It can be helpful to define boundaries in the following categories:

Emotional – Example: “If my date calls me insulting names, that is crossing my boundary.”

Physical – Example: “If my date puts their hands on me in anger, that is crossing my boundary.”

Digital – Example: “If my date asks me to Snapchat sexual photos, that is crossing my boundary.”

Moms – if you need help taking your own advice on healthy boundary-setting, check out our women’s guide to stop people-pleasing

5. Play it positive

Although you want to teach your teen the warning signs of unhealthy relationships, make sure you approach this milestone with a positive attitude. Don’t speak about it with dread or express disdain for their date; that will only drive your kid away from you. Tell your teen you’re excited for them to experience this new aspect of life and that you trust them to make the right choices. Show interest in learning more about their date and the good qualities your teen sees in them.

6. Rely on respect

When you’re talking to your teen about dating, make sure to keep a calm and respectful tone. If they feel you respect their individuality and opinions, they will be more likely to return the same respect to you. Even if you’re met with sighs and eye rolls, try to keep your cool and trust that your teen will hear what you have to say. Make sure to ask your teen’s point of view as well and listen with empathy and understanding.  

For more tips on being an emotionally intelligent parent, click here

7. Don’t steer away from sex

It may be tempting to avoid discussing sex with your teen, but remember that if you don’t give them the sex talk, their locker room buddies will. Regardless of your family values, don’t make your teen feel bad or abnormal for having natural sexual feelings. Express that these feelings are a normal part of maturing into an adult, but there are values that you expect them to adhere to. Think through your values and clearly explain them to your teen. It’s also important to talk to them about what others might do so they know ways to respond if they are met with unwanted advances.

8. Trust the job you’ve done

After you’ve said your piece, take off your private investigator hat and hang the binoculars back in the closet. You’ve spent more than a decade preparing your child for this milestone, teaching them right from wrong, empowering their self-esteem, and establishing boundaries for their behaviors. Trust that your lessons have prepared them to be resilient through the good and bad aspects of teen dating.

9. Know when to intervene

The ups and downs of dating can be incredibly positive in shaping your teen’s identity, building their emotional intelligence, and preparing them for adult relationships. However, it’s not uncommon for teens to enter unhealthy or abusive relationships. If you’re concerned that your teen is in a dangerous relationship, or if you’re just unsure how to talk with your teen about dating, our specialists can help.  

*Please note: since the publishing of this blog, Variations Psychology has narrowed its focus to diagnostic testing and psychological evaluations. Our Doctors can evaluate whether you or your loved one have a diagnosis and guide you through the next steps in achieving your mental health or academic goals. While Variations does not offer counseling, our diagnostic evaluations allow us to refer patients to specialists who are best equipped to meet their needs. In addition, this link can guide you through a directory of therapists, psychiatrists, treatment centers, and support groups in your area.

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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).

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Shinn. M.M. (2018). “Am I an Emotionally Intelligent Parent?” 6 Tips for Moms & Dads to Boost Their EQ. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from:

Whyte, A. (2018). Parents: How to Help Your Teen Set Healthy Dating Boundaries. Evolve Treatment Centers. Retrieved online:

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). “My Teen is Dating – What Do I Do?” Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: