Parents in Action: Teens & dating

Discussing relationships and dating with your teen or tween can certainly be uncomfortable for kids and you. But with alarming statistics like 31% of teens ages 13-17 experiencing dating violence or abuse, it's an important conversation to have. Teaching your teen how to establish boundaries, communicate openly and what's acceptable while dating will help them better grasp what healthy relationships entail and how to ask for help when something doesn't feel right.

First, parents should not be scared or worried about their children crossing into the dating realm. According to Kate Fogarty of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, adolescents desiring a romantic partner is completely natural and part of the biological changes that come along with puberty.

What's the Right Age?

Technically speaking there is no "right" age when your teen should start dating. According to Dr. Leslie Beth Wish, a psychologist and clinical social worker, teens are ready to start dating when they show a high level of maturity; around age 16. Some good ways to measure your teen's maturity is by their willingness to participate in household chores, "treating others with respect, getting good grades and" the ability to manage emotions. Make sure to talk with your child and discuss how you'll be deciding whether or not they can date. Remember, no one knows your kids better than you. So only you and your spouse can decide when is the best time to let them have a relationship.

Boundaries and Limitations

In the age of cell phones and computers, teens are reachable 24/7. The accessibility has its advantages but advocates say it has opened a portal that did not exist in young love years ago. Advocates say this allows teens, especially girls, to be controlled through text messages and calls often times keeping them up all night long. To avoid this, talk to your teen about permissible times to use cell phones and implement protocol for talking on the phone and texting with a boyfriend or girlfriend.  For a complete list of good cell phone etiquette and teens, visit

There is a darker side to dating that includes teens who spend too much time with a partner. Studies show the teen couples that spend unrestricted time together are connected with risk behaviors like school failure, drug use and delinquency. You'll want to set a limit on how much time your teen spends with their boy/girlfriend and make sure that if they spend time at each other's houses, they aren't left unattended or behind closed doors.  Encourage them to spend time together with your family doing activities or coming over for dinner.  This will enable you to see them interact with each other and get to know the boyfriend/girlfriend.

Be Available to Talk

If you think that talking to your kids about dating and sex is uncomfortable for you, it's even more uncomfortable for them. More than 90% of teens said that it would be easier for them to avoid sexual activity if they were able to have more open conversations with their parents. Because of this staggering statistic it's most important that parents are available at anytime to discuss this tough topics with their kids. Even more important is the fact that parents should never judge or over react after learning something that might not be the best of situations. Remember that you too were young and made mistakes.

Make sure to get the message across to your teen that if something doesn't seem right in their relationship, whatever the matter is, they should discuss the issue with you. Depending on each situation you can help guide them to an appropriate solution.


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