Teaching your teen about dating and relationships is a lot like teaching her how to ride a bike or drive a car. It is about providing guidance and supervision until she's ready to take the wheel on her own.
According to Lisa Jander, certified life coach and author of Dater's Ed: The Instruction Manual for Parents, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to dating. For instance, in her state, kids are allowed to start driver's education a few months before their 15th birthdays and get licenses at age 16. Still, she says, "Not all kids are ready." The same applies to parenting for dating: Would you trust your child to drive a car without any supervision? Parents need to figure out if there's a dater's ed curriculum in place to keep their child safe.
"Training wheels are a great way to learn on a bike," Jander continues. "But what often accompanies training wheels is adult supervision. We watch because we care. As our kids learn to develop relationships, we watch to see how they are being treated and how they treat others. Supervision and instruction is the foundation for both healthy dating and safe driving."
To effectively "reduce dating injuries" without being the hovering helicopter parent, Lisa suggests doing some homework and research on the person. For instance, in her home, she had each of her kids read three books: one about dating, one about the opposite gender and one about money. "Why money?" she asks. "Well, I'm not going to be paying for fuel and repairs, that's for sure!"
Lisa reminds us that teens need guidance, signs and boundary lines to keep them safe. "The key here is that the parents don't take the wheel. Our place is in the passenger seat, not the driver's seat. If we have control of the brakes ('You are not going to that party. Period'), then our teens won't learn how to navigate safely on their own." Instead, she suggests asking open-ended questions so teens learn to think for themselves and take ownership of their answers with questions like, "What's this party all about?"
Jill Tipograph, parenting consultant and summer expert, founder/director of Everything Summer, LLC, reminds us the importance of the parenting role in dating. "Parents are the ultimate guardians, the responsible adults who create appropriate parameters to help shape the best development of their children. Despite teens thinking they know everything (which we know they do not) and wanting to push their parents away, they really want their guidance."
She says by setting appropriate boundaries regarding dating, parents are in essence telling their kids what behaviors are safe and appropriate, and those they should be concerned about.
"When we discover that our teens are drinking and driving, our response is critical to the safety of others, not just our own kids. The same goes for dating," says Lisa. "Will you suspend the privilege? I'm hoping you will get your reckless teen off the street so that mine is safe. I'm hoping your teen won't show up drunk at my kid's party. I'm hoping you feel the same."
Keep in mind, each teen is different -- but it's important to give yours the keys. Lisa reminds us: "Open-ended questions are the key to ownership. Whoever answers the question, takes the wheel. The idea is to help your teen think for himself and not have to rely on you for the answers." She advises asking calm questions ahead of time help kids to think through scenarios. "In about a mile, you will be turning left. What do you need to do in advance? You had mentioned that you want to take Sarah to the movies Wednesday night. What do you need to do to get ready for your time together (date = money, clothes clean, shower, transportation, money for the movie, time, which movie, who pays, school night, which theatre...)?"
Lastly, teens should have fun while being safe. Lisa notes, "Buckle up. It's the Law of Attraction!"
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