According to the Illinois Attorney General, 89% of teens aged 13-18 in the U.S. report that they are in a dating relationship. While the subject of dating may feel daunting for parents, educating your teens about the expectations that come with dating, discussing family values and rules, and providing a space for teens to ask questions can help keep them safe, aware, and responsible.
Below are 5 tips on how to talk to your teens about dating:
1. BEGIN THE CONVERSATION EARLY
The beginning of middle school is a great time to start talking about dating. Middle school is a huge transition that brings about multiple changes in peer relationships and social groups, and talking about dating in the context of these changes is a natural way to open the conversation.
Whether you think your teens are interested in dating or not, they are likely surrounded by new dating relationships and discussions about dating within their peer groups. They may feel uncomfortable and hesitant to bring up the topic, and witnessing their parents open the conversation in a calm, natural way can help ease their uncertainties.
2. LISTEN WITH EMPATHY, NORMALIZATION, AND VALIDATION
Emphasize to your teens that you want to be a safe, supportive person they can talk to about their experiences and questions. Ask open ended questions (ex. “I’ve heard that a lot of kids in your class are talking about dating. What is that like for you?” or “What have you heard about dating from teachers, friends, and classmates?”). Help your teens feel comfortable by normalizing any feelings, questions, concerns, anxieties, and emotional/physical changes.
Listen to what your teens already think and have heard about dating. This can help you to determine how you can educate them to think critically and make responsible decisions.
Encourage and normalize questions, and answer them in an open, nonjudgmental way. Some questions require clear answers (ex. “When am I allowed to start dating?”). Other questions create opportunities for discussion, critical thinking, and joint brainstorming (ex. “Who is the best person to date?” or “What am I supposed to do on a date?”)
3. SET GUIDELINES
Setting guidelines is vital for teens when they begin dating. Answer the five W-questions, and have clear expectations before talking to your teens (Who are your children allowed to date? What does “dating” entail?/What can your children do and not do on a date? When are your children allowed to begin dating?/When can your children spend time with dates? Where can your children go on dates? Why are your children allowed to date-responsibilities and expectations).
Explain to your teens that dating is a privilege that comes with responsibilities, and discuss the various expectations. Creating a contract with the outlined rules is a great way to help your teens keep themselves accountable. Click here for an excellent example of a dating contract for teens.
Emphasize to your teens that the reason for these guidelines is to keep them and the people they date safe and comfortable.
4. EDUCATE AND DISCUSS FAMILY VALUES
Discussions about dating provide great opportunities to educate your teens about sex. Talk to your teens about your family values and expectations regarding sex and physical contact in a dating relationship. People have varying opinions on sex education-regardless of what your beliefs are, sharing them with your teens and having an open, honest, clear discussion is necessary to keep them informed and debunk possible myths they hear from classmates or see in the media. The more educated your teens are, the more likely they will be to make responsible decisions.
Another important discussion is one regarding consent. Have a conversation with your teens about what is safe and appropriate in a dating relationship and what is not. Emphasize the importance of respecting and asserting personal boundaries and engaging in activities that both people enjoy. Help your teens problem solve and role play certain situations to help them learn how to speak up for themselves and listen to others. (ex. “What if your date wants to see a movie you know you’re not allowed to see? What can you do and say?” or “What if you want to hold hands but you don’t know if your date wants to? What can you do or say that is respectful?”)
5. CONTINUE OPEN COMMUNICATION
Continue to talk to your teens about dating throughout the years. Your teens’ values, views, and thoughts may change over time, and setting the pattern of having open discussions is helpful. Your openness and willingness to talk about potentially awkward topics can send the message to your teens that they can confide in you!
What are some strategies you have tried when talking to your teen about dating? What has worked well for you and your family? We’d love to hear from you! Please share with us :