Most parents aren’t exactly excited by the prospect of their teenager beginning to date. Really, it’s the sort of thing that can keep a mom up at night. However, no matter how much you dread it, at some point, your teenager will want to start dating. What’s a mom to do?
Unless your dating policy involves having none of it until your teen turns 30, you probably don’t need someone to tell you what you should or shouldn’t allow. As a parent, you have to decide what you’re comfortable with – group dating at 16? individual dates at 17? – and what rules are in line with your family values. However, you probably can use tips on how to talk to your teen about dating, how to remain in charge and the importance of enforcing your dating rules.
Get on the same team
Patrina Reddick, MS, a Clinical Therapist who works with children, adolescents and families and Director of PIMOSH, says that in two parent households, both parents need to sit down and agree on the rules. “Teens are great at splitting parents,” says Reddick. “Parents need to present a united front, even if they’re not in total agreement.” Work with your spouse or partner to lay the ground rules so that your teen knows that one parent might be more likely to bend or break them.
Don’t wait until your teen is telling you she’s ready to begin dating to talk about dating. “The earlier you begin, the better,” says Reddick. While you obviously don’t want to discus dating per se with your fourth grader, Reddick suggests that instead, you have age-appropriate conversations about relationships, friendships, etc., every time you see someone new come into your child’s life – a friend, a crush or anyone else. If you begin discussing dating well before your child hits the teen years, the talks won’t be so out-of-the blue and awkward when they turn serious.
Agree on consequences
Once you’ve decided your dating rules, sit down with your teen and lay them out. The rules are non-negotiable, but what about the consequences? While it’s obviously up to you to determine them, have a discussion about this. Share your expectations and agree on appropriate natural results for not meeting them. If your teen knows the boundaries and is clear on them, and if she understands the consequences, she’s more likely to respect your dating rules.
Reddick says the one of the more significant factors in ensuring that your teen follows your rules is your own follow through. If your teen tests the boundaries by, for example, saying out past her curfew following a date, but you can’t bear to suspend her driving privileges for the full week you had previously warned, what does she learn? Exactly! Even though it’s not always easy, especially when it makes life harder for Mom, enforcing the rules is just as important as making them.