The teen years are fraught with angst, not the least of which is caused by the process of starting to date. While you cannot remove the ups and downs for your teenager, you can talk to your teen about dating to help him or her be prepared to make good decisions.
- The dating talk is not just one talk; it is an ongoing event. You cannot sit down and just tell your teen everything he needs to know about dating in one discussion. Preparation starts long before you deem your teen even old enough to date. Have you helped build your growing child's self-esteem? Have you imparted your family's values to your teen through your actions as well as your words? Everything you do as you raise your child establishes the foundation of character that will affect every date on which your teen goes.
- Even if you have imparted your values to your teen, you do still need to discuss some specifics of dating. However, instead of calling your teen into a talk that could feel confrontational, look for an activity you both enjoy that could be used as an accompaniment to your discussions. Often, teens will be more receptive to a talk about dating while you are driving, shopping or even taking a walk. Partnering your dating talk with another activity can help avoid seeing the "deer caught in the headlights" look on your teenager's face.
- So, what are the most important things to tell your teenager about dating? First, you want to set the rules for what kind of dates are okay, and what kind are not. Is your teen allowed to date only when they go out in groups, or is a one-on-one date okay? What time is your teen expected to be home? What kinds of date venues are okay with you? In other words, if attending a school dance, sports event or walk-in movie is okay, but going to an unchaperoned party, the beach at night, or a drive-in is not acceptable, you need to tell your teenager these things. Since common sense often does not prevail in the teenage brain, it is important to be crystal clear.
- Once you have covered the logistical issues and rules, you should talk about some of the emotional aspects of the teen dating scene. While your teenagers may not believe you, assure them that the intensity of emotions they feel for their current crushes will be matched by future ones. Rejections do happen, both before and after dates. Remind your teen that there is nothing wrong with him; sometimes chemistry, personalities and interests just do not click. Many things must align for two people to truly form a relationship. Of course, in a lucky few instances, your teen will like someone who likes him and one of them will be brave enough to initiate a date. And, if the date goes well, there may be more dates, leading to a relationship. One of the biggest challenges for teens is keeping their relationships from intensifying too quickly. Encourage your teenagers not to abandon their friends; everyone needs friends as well as romantic liaisons.
- When things go wrong....you want your child to be prepared to handle it. While we all want our teens to call us when they need to, the truth is they often will not turn to us out of fear of punishment. So, in addition to reassuring your teen that you will help him or her out of a tough spot (such as drunken friends, an abusive date or other problems), you want to empower your teen. Make sure he keeps a hidden stash of "emergency" money to cover running out of gas, taking a cab or other solutions. In addition, if your teen does not have a cell phone for emergencies, make sure he has a calling card account or a pre-paid phone card that can be used to call for help.
While talking to your teen about dating can be a challenge, it is important that you do so. Your teenagers need to be prepared for this big social step and also to know that their parents are always there to support and aid them, especially when times get tough.