In what seems like the blink of an eye, tots become teenagers. Though some may be unwilling, parents now have to embrace their child’s new stage of development — teen dating.
It doesn’t have to be a nail-biting experience for mom and dad when approached with curiosity and candid conversation, says Dr. Lisa Doane, a clinical psychologist based in Rocky River.
Doane provides empowering guidelines to help set the foundation of communication about dating for your teens.
Provide an Education
Talk, talk, talk! You may assume your child knows what a healthy relationship looks like, and all the facts they need to know about sex. However, it’s very likely that they don’t or have at least some degree of misinformation. Talk early and often (sometimes directly, sometimes simply within earshot) about all the things you want them to know — what it means to be a good, caring, respectful partner; how to ask for what they want and say no to things they don’t want; how to negotiate and deescalate arguments and ways to identify signs that a relationship isn’t working.
Set your Expectations
Include your teen in discussions about expectations and boundaries in dating. You can avoid significant problems later on by being clear from the beginning on issues around curfew, frequency and length of dates, who will be expected to pay for dates, and any other rules you may have for their dating. If you can include your child in a friendly negotiation around these concerns, they will be more inclined to understand your expectations and adhere to them, and this will build trust during this time when it is so essential.
Be genuinely open to meeting their new date. You may be feeling protective or defensive, or simply sad that your child is growing up quickly and moving on to this new phase of life — but it’s important that parents keep an open mind when meeting their teen’s new potential boyfriend or girlfriend. You may really like the person your teen is dating, but even if you don’t, this step will keep the door open for communication with your child about their relationship.
On the other hand, don’t get too attached to your teen’s dating partner — if your child is moving on, you should, too (in a kind and respectful way, of course). When your teen has made a decision to exit their relationship, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask why or express surprise about it, but try your best to do so in a way that is non-judgmental. Except when it’s truly deserved, resist any urge to criticize the person they were dating — if they were to ever date again, this would make it difficult for your teen to talk with you about it.
Lead by Example
Do your best to model the type of relationship you want for your child. Consistently, studies have supported what we intuitively know to be true — teens that are exposed to more conflict in their home are also more likely to have high conflict dating relationships. When children see their parents disagree respectfully, solve problems together, and show affection to one another, they will be more likely to be primed for healthy boundaries.