“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:
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
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.”
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.
Cynthia R. Johnson, LMFT,is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. Cynthia can strengthen your family’s communication while empowering your teen to make healthy, positive choices.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting teen boys through life’s transitions. If your teenage son is having any challenges related to dating, Dr. Sample can provide a comfortable place for him to overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. If you are concerned about your teen’s mental or emotional health, Dr. Shinn can provide diagnostic testing and recommend support to meet your teen’s needs.
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Center for Disease Control (2018). Understanding Teen Dating Violence. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/teen-dating-violence-2014-a.pdf
GoodTherapy.org. 9 Tips for Talking to Teens About Dating and Relationships. Retrieved from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/9-tips-for-talking-to-teens-about-dating-and-relationships-0227157
Mayo Clinic (2017). Sex Education: Talking to Your Teens About Sex. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/in-depth/sex-education/art-20044034
Shinn. M.M. (2018). “Why Can’t I Say No?” The Women’s Guide to Stop People-Pleasing. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/the-womans-holiday-guide-to-stop-people-pleasing
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: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/am-i-an-emotionally-intelligent-parent-6-tips-for-moms-dads-to-boost-their-eq
Whyte, A. (2018). Parents: How to Help Your Teen Set Healthy Dating Boundaries. Evolve Treatment Centers. Retrieved online: https://evolvetreatment.com/blog/parents-how-to-help-your-teen-set-healthy-dating-boundaries/
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:https://www.variationspsychology.com/test-blog/my-teen-is-dating-what-do-i-do