It’s one of the territories that strikes fear in every parent — when your kids start developing crushes and want to date!
One minute they’re your tiny bundle, looking to you for every need and now, suddenly, everyone but you is on their radar. And, they want to start seeing “someone special” or have their first date.
It’s certainly an area that changes from household to household. Some parents have very firm ideas about if and when their kids can start dating, whereas others see it as a part of growing up.
If you’re still undecided about how to tackle this phase of life, we might be able to help. We’ve taken the time to talk to Dr. Justin Coulson, a parenting expert (from Happy Families) and father of five, about some of the issues surrounding teenage dating.
The best age to start dating
This is probably a grey area that depends on the parents’ feelings and the maturity of the teenagers involved. However, Dr. Coulson says it ultimately comes down to your values on dating.
“I see dating as a chance for a boy and a girl to spend time getting to know one another with a view to a longer-term romantic relationship,” said Dr. Coulson. “Because I see dating as having a longer-term goal, I think kids should be discouraged from ‘dating’ until they’re at least 16 years old. By all means, hang out and enjoy being with friends, but I discourage romantic interests for kids as long as possible.”
He says it’s fine if kids have crushes, but sometimes by not participating in dating, they get a sideline view of the heartache others experience from being “dumped” or “two-timed”.
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Discussing dating with your kids
One approach to take is to discuss dating, crushes and romantic feelings before your child even reaches that stage.
Dr. Coulson says when you do have the chat, “It should include what dating actually is and other things, including how a person should be asked out, expectations for a date, how each person ought to behave and so on. Ideally, if we start the discussion young enough, our children will ask us questions because of their natural curiosity, and we can answer.”
Boundaries for dating
So, you’ve allowed your teen to go on a date and the time is nearing for the big moment. Dr. Coulson recommends you discuss some important topics beforehand, including:
- Safe modes of transport — driving or public transport and timetables
- Drugs and alcohol
- Having mobile phones turned on at all times
- Having phone numbers for the other teenager and his/her parent
- Ways to get out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations
It’s also recommended that you talk to both teenagers involved about behaviours you expect to see from them when they are in your house. “Discussions with both of them, openly and clearly, allow you to set and maintain limits in the home that can be respected and followed. Your kids may not like it, but it is your home, and if you do it with honesty, warmth and kindness, the limits are far more likely to be kept,” said Dr. Coulson.
Online behaviour and “sexting”
There is only one clear option for Dr. Coulson when it comes to teenagers using social media to discuss their relationships, or using mobile phones for “sexting”: “Teach your kids not to do it! End of story,” he said.
Of course, it’s hard to keep teenagers off Facebook, Twitter, etc. So, if you’re allowing your teen to use these platforms, make sure you also stay connected with them and remind them that posts can last forever.
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An unfavourable choice
Lastly, if your teen has picked someone that you don’t really like, Dr. Coulson says, “Research shows that forbidding relationships only drives them underground.”
Instead, try to have a calm and open discussion with your child, raise your concerns but be supportive of them. You can also suggest opportunities where you can get to know the chosen boyfriend or girlfriend better or ask your teen what it is about him/her they like.
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