Children grow up fast. As your child becomes a teenager, her social life will quickly grow and she will want more independence. When it comes to dating, many parents worry about their child's safety, the influence of another person on their child, and if their child is responsible enough to date. Remember that some things have changed since you were young and some things have stayed the same, so let your child experience things within limits, and keep the lines of communication open.
Tips for when your child starts dating
What dating means to your preteen and teen. Dating may have a different meaning for your child than for you. When your fifth or sixth grader comes home and talks about her best friend's boyfriend, you may be wondering if it is okay for kids to date at this age. By 10-12 years, children start to become more aware of peers to whom they are attracted. Girls and boys will begin to interact with each other whereas before they might have stuck to their own sex. However, dating is more of a social romance. Your 11-year-old may believe that dating is being partners on school project or going to the school dance together. For your 13-year-old, dating is still fairly social and “going out” with someone, liking someone, asking them out, and breaking up with them may involve the entire circle of friends. Romantically, things usually progress a little further when your child is 14-16. Make sure you have had the “sex” talk with your teen, and let her know that she can and should come to you with any questions. Click here for more information on talking to your teen about sex and sexuality.
How young is too young? Several experts including David Elkind, Professor of Child Development at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child , feel that children younger than age 14 do not have the social and emotional skills to handle dating and romantic relationships. When children start dating too early, they are less likely to develop a strong personal identity and a good social network of close friends. You know your child best, so the final decision is up to you. No matter what you decide, do set some ground rules and explain to him why you feel the way you do. Don't discourage your child from having friends of both sexes. In fact, it is healthy for him to do this. Sometimes, teens are attracted to others who are either older or younger than themselves. Be aware of your own values around how age difference figures into dating and talk with your teen about your reasoning.
What activities are appropriate? When your child does begin to date, let her know what your expectations are, set some limits and discuss your reasoning with her. When she first starts dating, ask your child to invite her date to hang out at home a few times or join the family on an outing so that you can get to know the person. Introduce yourself to the other teen's parents when you or they are dropping off or picking up one of the children. It's important for you to know who your teen is spending time with, where she is going, what time she will be home, and what the transportation arrangements are. If your child is going to a friend's house where both boys and girls will be hanging out, call the parents and make sure an adult is aware and will be home. If your daughter and her date are hanging out at home, make sure everyone is clear about rules regarding privacy and open/closed doors. Encourage and help facilitate your teen to go on group dates, especially if your child is young.
Talk about healthy relationships. Some teens are so overwhelmed with the excitement of a first relationship that they may not notice if the relationship takes a wrong turn. Remind your child that it is ok to disagree with a significant other and also have other friends and interests. Let him know that he should come to you or another trusted adult if he feels uncomfortable. Even teens can get caught in abusive relationships and dating violence, so teach your teen what to look out for, including both verbal insults and physical abuse. Dating should be fun and make your child happy. Keep an eye on your child for signs of stress and anxiety. For more information, visit the Teen Victim Project of the National center for Victims and Crime.