No parent eagerly counts down the days until their child is a teenager who is dating. It's not typically a stage in life parents look forward to. Regardless of the anxiety and dread you might feel as your baby begins to explore romantic interests, teen dating is coming in hot and heavy... and you'll want to be prepared for what that means for you and your child long before your teen's date is on your doorstep.
Teen Dating: It Isn't What It Used to Be
Teen dating has undergone some seriously drastic changes within the last few decades. Where once the experience was marked by varsity jacket wearing, drive-in movies, school dances, and courting rituals synonymous with the movie Grease, it is now a minefield of gray areas.
Dating ain't what it used to be, folks, and if you are raising teens, you have to get educated, like yesterday, to help safely guide your teen through their dating experiences.
Buckle. Up. Parents.
A Shift From Face-to-Face to Virtual
Once upon a time, a date meant a person picked a romantic interest up and took them somewhere to get better acquainted. Maybe they went to dinner and a movie, or roller skating or a school dance. Perhaps they hung out with other teens at a bonfire, the mall, or a friend's basement rec room. Dating during yesteryear almost always included face-to-face interactions because smartphones, iPads and other virtual communication devices were not yet the norm.
These days, those stages of "getting to know a person" are often done via a screen. So much teen "dating" takes place on an app, over a screen, or in the virtual realm. This shift is a massive one that has likely changed the culture and landscape of teenage dating for all time.
Influences From Pop Culture
Teens have always been influenced by elements of pop culture, trends, and signs of the times. Today's teens are immersed in romantically weighty (and brazen) shows that they binge watch on repeat. They think that these shows portray typical relationships. Because teen brains are still young and immature, they might confuse fiction and reality, especially and particularly because of pop culture and what they are exposed to. It is a parent's job to help kids entering the dating world understand that television is fictional, and their dating experiences should not emulate what they see on the small or big screen or in music.
Setting the Ground Rules for Teen Dating
Most parents require their teenagers to abide by some set of rules. With regard to dating, it is common to have rules in place to keep children safe and in line with their family values. The rules you impose on your dating teen should be based on your core morals and ethics. Rules often work best when they are formulated in collaboration between the teenager and the parents. When everyone contributes to rules, dating-related or otherwise, there is often less resistance when it comes to following them.
Meeting New Partners and Friends
Whoever your teen is interested in getting to know on a "romantic" level needs to be on your radar. In short: know who your kid is associating with. Meet them, ask them questions, spend a few minutes in their company, and observe how they treat and respond to your child. Beyond that, find out who runs in the inner circle of the prospective date.
Meeting your teenager's new date might be uncomfortable for everyone involved. That's okay! This is all part of the social skill/relationship building and navigation process that teenagers will utilize for their entire adult lives. Remember that when you meet your kid's new love interest, you might have some reservations about this person. This person is new and has their eye on your most cherished treasure, your child. Figure out if your reservations are because you have some red flags regarding this person, or if you are feeling like no one will ever be good enough to date your baby. Basically, know when your reservations are rational and when they aren't.
Age Restrictions Apply
Age ain't nothing but a number unless it applies to teen dating. In that case, age is very much a number. It's perfectly acceptable to have some rules regarding the ages of people your teen becomes romantically interested in. Socially, emotionally and physically, a 14 year-old and an 18 year-old are going to differ immensely. Just because the teens are all in high school together doesn't mean they can freely date each other. Be upfront with your teen if you have boundaries about the ages of people they can go out with.
The Business of Curfews
A curfew tells your teen what time they have to be home by. When your teen starts heading out on evening dates, it is high time to discuss curfew. You and your teen might have different ideas about what an appropriate curfew is. Get ready to hear all about how so-and-so's mom lets her stay out as long as she wants, and how all of your teen's friends can come home at 2 a.m. Curfew chats can make you feel as if you and your teen are two warring countries, currently engrossed in peace talks. Consider the following when navigating curfews:
- Has your teen demonstrated responsibility and honesty? These traits might make you feel comfortable with a later curfew.
- Can the curfew be flexible if there is something going on that is a farther distance away, or something that tends to be a lengthier activity, like a concert or school dance? Curfews for every evening hangouts might be earlier compared to dates where a longer drive or extended event occurs.
- Curfews aren't set in stone. Consider a sliding scale curfew. Start with an earlier curfew time and the agreement that later curfews can be earned through positive behavior and choices. Curfews can also be set for later times as your teen increases in age.
- If your teen is your oldest, and you really don't know the norm for teen curfews, talk with friends who are raising teens, or the parents of your teen's pals. What are their curfew rules and times?
- A curfew might be earlier if road conditions are poor, if your teen has an early morning or major exam the next day, or if your teen is behind the wheel of your vehicle. You are the parent; hence, you get to make the executive decision on all curfew-related issues.
Know Where Teens Are Going
Teens want nothing more than freedom. Freedom to express themselves, spend time with people of their choosing, and go where they want. You can allow your budding adult some freedoms, but you might not want to give them too much freedom, especially when it pertains to where they are headed. Kids find trouble, even when they are not looking for it, and more than a few teens have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Have guidelines about where your teens can hang out with their new love interest and company. If there are other teens' homes your child isn't supposed to be at, make that a rule. If there are specific public spaces that you don't want your teenager heading to, it is your right to make that place off-limits. Be specific in your rules regarding areas where dates occur, and be transparent in laying out the consequences should they break a rule and find themselves somewhere they should not be.
Have "the Talk," and Then Have It Again
You see your teen making googly eyes at their date, and you see your date looking just as engrossed in your kid. It's time for "the talk." You know what we are getting at here. Even if you have laid out the biological birds and bees facts and touched on how that applies to adult interactions, you will probably want to have the talk again. All that verbiage before teenage dating was abstract, something to ponder in the far-off future. Judging from the lovebirds in your living room, however, the distant future has turned into right now, and refresher courses are imperative.
The Birds, the Bees, and Consent
Parents approach the birds and bees talk from different angles, and these talks are often based on a family's morals and values. Go ahead and tackle it any way you choose, but keep in mind that if your teen is dating and romantically interested in another person, you should at least lay down the facts of life so they have all the information to make responsible and safe choices when outside of your care.
Furthermore, the concept of consent needs to be discussed. Should your teens take their romantic interest to an adult level physically, you will want your kid to be crystal clear on what consent is, why it is essential, and how consent isn't a one-time thing. Encourage them to ask questions regarding this new phase of life, and questions about consent (since this is something that is likely a bit new and foreign to them). Lay out scenarios, discuss hypotheticals, be honest and approachable with this subject matter, and know that no matter how uncomfortable the talk is, it's all part of this parenting gig, and it needs to be had.
One Talk Is NOT Enough
You got through "the talk." Phew. Glad that is over and done with!
It's not over and done with, not by a long shot. When it comes to teens, dating, and romantic interests, the talk needs to be revisited from time to time to time again. Check in with your kid as they move through the dating experience. They will probably come up with new questions as new situations reveal themselves. Keep the lines of communication wide open, because you want your teen coming to you for answers to their burning, hormonal questions, not gathering ideas and info from their favorite television series characters, friends, or social media.
Listen Between the Lines
When discussing anything dating or consent-related, listen to your child, like really listen. Teens are not always stellar at saying what they are thinking or asking what they need to. Read between the lines and be sure you are hearing all they are saying, but also, and more importantly, pick up on what they are not saying.
Dangers of Teen Dating
The dating scene isn't without dangers, especially pertaining to teens, who are often new to this arena. These days, modern technology, social media, texting, and apps must be addressed in the teen dating experience.
Staying in the Know With Social Media
Facebook, Snapchat, Tik Tok, Twitter, Instagram, and beyond. Social media seems to be running the universe. Your teenager is probably not a stranger to some social media channels, but now that they are dating, social media takes on a whole different meaning. Know what social media profiles your teen has created. You always want to balance privacy with parental responsibility, and social media can be a dicey, gray area regarding both. How invested you become with your kid's social media profile and friend circle is up to you, but know what your kid is posting, and be sure it aligns with your core values and ethics.
Social media is all about sharing, but not everything needs to be common knowledge. Discuss dating and what should and shouldn't be housed on social media. Have conversations about social media and appropriateness, and discuss how once something is out there, floating around in the virtual universe, it is there for good. Teens have to be smart when it comes to social media, and if they are ever in doubt about whether a line has been crossed, encourage them to come to you to discuss it.
Dos and Don'ts of Texting While Dating
Just as with social media forums, written words in the form of texting can be shared and shared and shared again. Any words (or images) your teen texts to a love interest can go beyond that person. Your teenager should be acutely aware that just because they are a loyal, level-headed person doesn't mean the teen on the receiving end of a text is.
There are also some relationship conversations that don't have a place in texting. Serious chats and break-ups shouldn't be done over text; instead, they should happen in person or over the telephone. This is also something you can teach your dating teen as they begin to learn the faux pas of relationships.
Apps to Watch Out For
There is an app for everything these days, including teen dating and connecting. Some apps are more questionable than others, but as a parent of a dating teen, you may want to periodically check your child's phone to determine if they have downloaded any apps surrounding dating and meeting people. Explore all downloaded apps, learning about what they entail, because descriptions of apps and the reality of them can be two vastly different things.
- Spotafriend - This app asks kids to swipe to "friend" someone, then they can chat privately with anyone, whether they intimately know them or not. It functions on GPS, which makes it extra scary.
- Yubo - It has been called Tinder for Teens, and that should be a big enough red flag for any parent. Kids create a profile, swipe right to like, and then can communicate with others using the app.
- Mylol - The app claims to be for kids, but rest assured, not everyone using this app is under the age of 18. On this site, those with a profile can include pictures and videos. There is also no age verification for this app. It is definitely one to look out for.
- The Game by Hot or Not - Forget it. Just raise your teens in an underground bunker because these apps are downright scary. This one allows users to rate other people according to their attractiveness. Matches are made, and then matches can connect.
Teen Dating Violence
No one wants to think about teens and dating violence, but it does occur and it needs to be addressed to best keep your young dater safe. A recent scary statistic revealed that 10% of teens have fallen victim to teen dating violence. This violence can come in various forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, mental, and verbal. Your teenager should know what each transgression can look like, and what to do if they or someone they care about experiences any level of teen dating violence, because no level or form of it is ever acceptable.
Teen Dating: A Cringey Yet Key Stage of Life
You might dread the day your teen dips their toes into the dating pool, but trying out this type of human relationship is actually a healthy and key aspect of emotional growth, and key for developing social skills and navigating relationships. It is your teen's first experience with a "romantic" partnership. It is likely the first time they have developed feelings for a person that is not friends or family. No matter how awkward teenage dating might seem to older and far more mature you, be sure to help your teen understand boundaries, respect, and safety as they learn to navigate the teenage dating realm. This is merely another step in their learning to become adults... and parents, there is no graceful way around it. It's yet another stage that snuck on up and smacked you in the face, but at least now you are armed with a solid guide to aid you in ushering your teen through their dating experiences.