Ah, teen dating. An awkward, beautiful, yet stressful, and potentially chaotic rite of passage. As a parent, you may have been telling yourself for years that you need to prepare for the moment that your child is ready to go on their first date. Well, the doorbell is ringing, and it might be time for you to talk to your child about establishing some teen dating rules.
Some parents are throwing the old teen dating rulebook out the window and opting to have conversations with their children about important topics revolving around teen dating instead of setting hard and fast rules. Talking to your child about these topics will help you come to a better understanding with your teen about your mutual expectations surrounding their dating life.
First, Explain to Your Child Why You Are Having This Conversation
Before you come in and lay out your own personal set of rules that you hope your child will follow without question, you may want to start the conversation by explaining to your child that you are setting rules that are meant to keep them safe. Remind them that, although it may be difficult for them to imagine, you were a teen once too, and you may have even gone on a date or two at the time.
After you remind your teen that you were once subject to the difficulty and wonderment that is teen dating, you may also need to remind yourself. Do you remember what it was like when your family was all too interested in your dating life? It can be embarrassing and stressful for teens to talk about liking someone with their parents, let alone to hear rules that they think parents are setting up because they don't trust them. Lead with your love for them and desire to keep them protected. Remember, this is equally difficult for them as it is for you.
Try to Relax
If you're more of a traditional parent, take a deep breath. First, know that having conversations with your child about topics does not mean that you can't/shouldn't establish dating rules for your child.
However, it does mean that you can work together with your child to create rules as a team that are reasonable and fair to both of you. This will allow you to tell your child what is important to you, and you will get to know what is important to them as well.
Next, Establish Teen Dating Rules and Talk About the Big Topics
By having conversations about topics instead of just listing out rules, it may make your child more likely to actually follow them. Think about what it was like when someone gave you rules as a kid and told you to follow them just because they said so. It probably didn't feel great, and you most likely didn't have the same amount of respect for those rules as you would have if they approached it differently. Teens (and just about everyone) like having a sense of autonomy in their lives. There are many 'big topics' you may want to cover with your child in order to help establish some teen dating rules.
1. Decide on an Appropriate Age Your Teen Can Start Dating
When is a good age for teenagers to start dating? What about if the teen is really more like a 'tween'? Should they be allowed to go on dates alone or only with groups? As a parent, all of these questions are probably flooding your mind. And for good reason. You want to make sure that your teen is emotionally ready for a relationship, and, of course, you want to keep them safe.
At the end of the day, all teenagers are different. They have different levels of maturity, understanding, emotional intelligence... everything. Research shows that the average age for girls to start dating is 12 and a half, while the average age for boys is 13 and a half. Just because this is the average, you don't have to abide by it. Some factors you may want to consider when establishing an appropriate age for your teen to start dating are:
- Why does your teen want to start dating? What does dating mean to them?
- Do they want to go on romantic dates or just hang out at the movies with someone?
- Share with your teen when you started dating. Were you ready? Did you feel like you started too early or too late?
- Is your child mature enough to handle a relationship, heartbreak, and balancing priorities?
- Would you feel more comfortable allowing your teen to go on group dates? Or are solo dates okay?
2. Your Teen's Relationship Should Be Healthy
Even though you may really wish you could play matchmaker and choose your child's partner, that isn't always how it works. You can't control who your teen ends up falling for, but you can do your best to help guide them. One way of doing this is by teaching them about what they should look for in a partner, as well as any red flags that may be cause for concern. Talk about respect, empathy, kindness, and any other aspects of healthy relationships you hope for them to experience with a partner.
There Must Be Mutual Respect
There are a lot of aspects that go into forming healthy relationships, and respect is a big one. Talk to your child about what respect looks like in a relationship, and how your child and their partner can show you respect. Some aspects of respect in relationships you may want to discuss are:
- Respect should be mutual between your teen and their partner in the relationship.
- If your child isn't being/feeling respected in the relationship, then it may be best for their mental health to leave it.
- Intimate partner violence is not tolerated in any relationship, and your teen should tell you if there are any signs/experiences of it.
- Both your teen and their partner should respect your role as a parent.
3. Be Cautious About Virtual-World Dating
There are a lot of dating apps out there in the world, and, of course, there's social media. These offer ways for your teen to meet and connect with new people that they may develop relationships with. If you haven't yet heard of Tinder, you may need to start doing some research. Having a virtual dating world in the twenty-first century brings with it its own unique dating risks. Not to mention potential safety hazards that parents should talk to their kids about.
Take Sending Private Messages Seriously
Your child may be really into having a partner for the first time. Constantly texting, calling, FaceTiming, and everything in between. Teens spend hours online every day, and when your child is talking to someone they feel they can trust, it can leave them vulnerable. Some things you may want to discuss with your teen regarding the virtual world are:
- Sending intimate texts
- The potential for personal pictures/videos to be shared with anyone and that nothing ever really goes away... it's out there forever
- Written material or photographs that someone in one way or another may be able to use against them, or that may harm their future possibilities like college acceptance/job offers
Think Before Sharing on Social Media
As a parent, you know that stuff online has a way of resurfacing in the future that may not be in the best interest of your teen. Talk to your child about what is appropriate to post on social media surrounding their partner/relationship in order to protect them. Some topics you may want to discuss are:
- Sharing intimate/more daring pictures
- Whether they would be okay with family members seeing what they are posting
- If you have social media, if you are allowed to 'follow' their partner or like/comment on their posts
- What to do if they face bullying/harassment online about their partner or their relationship
4. Intimacy Should Be Safe and Consensual
Ever dread the thought of having to talk to your child about getting intimate with a partner? Of course you have, that's normal. However, even if it's difficult and makes either or both of you uncomfortable, it's a conversation you need to have for many reasons. The bottom line is that if you aren't having this conversation with your teen, then they are going to find that information somewhere else.
Consent Is Bae (Before Anything Else)
Regardless of whether your teen is having thoughts about being intimate with their partner or not, it's important to teach them about consent. Intimate situations can leave people feeling vulnerable. Especially if they don't have any information about them. Some things you may want to discuss are:
- Consent as a requirement in a relationship, especially surrounding intimacy
- Talk about bodily autonomy
- How they can reach out (to yourself or friends) about feeling pressure to be intimate
- Whether you as a parent want to know if they are being intimate
- If you are both comfortable talking about intimacy/other relationship issues your teen may be facing
Use Protection and Stay Safe
Parents, this may be hard to accept or think about, but it must be said. The reality is that your teen may have thoughts about, or pursue, intimacy in their relationships. And that may be a difficult truth. However, even if you think your child would never ever ever become intimate with a partner, they should still be educated about staying safe. This may be the peak awkwardness of your conversation with your teen, but it doesn't have to be. Things to talk about are:
- What STIs are and how your teen can protect themself from them
- How to use different types of protection and where to find them
- Risks surrounding teen pregnancy
- Your family's personal beliefs or preferences surrounding intimacy
5. Your Teen Deserves (a Reasonable Amount of) Privacy
Everyone wants privacy sometimes, including teenagers, and maybe even especially teenagers that just started dating someone they are really into. Talking to your teen about respecting their privacy can be a good way of helping take some pressure off of their relationship, because they will be less worried about feeling like parents are trying to pry into their private lives. It's normal for parents to want to know what their child is up to, but the reality is, your teen might not be as eager to share.
Meet Their Partner (When You're Both Ready)
Most parents care about who their child is dating and spending so much time around. Meeting your child's partner can bring you some peace of mind about the situation. In order to show some respect for your child's privacy, talk to them about wanting to meet their partner and discuss how you should go about it. Some ways to do this are:
- Telling your teen about why it's important for you to meet their significant other
- Allowing your child to have some input about when they want you to meet their partner
- Asking them how/where they want to make the introduction
- How you should address their partner or talk about their relationship
- Whether their partner's parents want to meet you
Establish That There Are Expectations for Date Nights
When it comes to actual date nights, you're going to have questions for your teen, because you want to know that they are safe, as well as having fun. There is a way to balance having respect for your child's private life with having expectations for them. Knowing basic information is important and can keep you in the loop in case your child needs you. Some things you may want to discuss are:
- Why you want to know where/when your child is going somewhere with their partner
- How long they expect to be gone
- What to do if a date is running long and they won't be home at the time they said they would
- Why you want to know who else will be there or if they will be alone
Build Trust and Open Communication
Questions don't stop racing as soon as your child leaves for their date. In fact, you've probably thought of five more by the time they've made it to the car. That means that when your child comes home from a date, you're going to have a million questions.
Was it fun? What did you eat? Did you get dessert?
Know that your child may not want to answer all of these questions. If your teen seems like they don't want to talk about their date, use every ounce of willpower you have to respect that. Your child will most likely share with you the important parts when they are ready. Over time, your child will build more trust with you, and they may be open to answering more questions. In the meantime, some things you may want to talk about are:
- Why you want to know how their date went
- How you have a lot of questions that you want to be able to ask, but don't want to overwhelm your child or invade their privacy
- Compromise on a number for the amount of questions you can ask after a date or what they can be about
- Explain how you want to develop a close relationship with your child where they trust you and feel comfortable sharing that information
6. Your Teen Must Remember Priorities
When your teen starts dating, you may notice a shift in their priorities. It's normal for them to want to hang out with their partner every chance they get. Going out on movie dates and heading to the bowling alley is a lot more fun than doing homework or keeping up with chores. That being said, you may want to discuss priorities and establish other helpful ground rules with your child. Some of these may include:
- How many days/nights a week your teen can hang out with their partner
- Whether you want a certain amount of homework to be completed beforehand
- If there should be a curfew put in place
- Whether you need to know in advance if your child is planning on hanging out with their significant other or if day-of dates are okay
- How to handle your child potentially missing out on family activities/holidays
- What to do if your child's grades start slipping or if they start to blow off extracurricular obligations in order to hang out with their partner
7. There Are Extra Safety Rules With New Partners
If your teen is dating for the first time or is meeting up with someone that they met online, then there may be more baseline safety rules that you want to put in place. These don't have to be forever rules for your family. However, if their date is with someone that they might not actually know as well as they think they do, these rules may be beneficial in ensuring your child's safety. Some first-time or online partner rules may be:
- Encourage your teen to meet in a public place
- Have them take friends/double date
- Ask your child to share their location with you during the date
- Have them text you at a certain time to check-in
- Ask to see a picture of the person they are meeting up with
- Drop them off at the date/have them drive there themselves instead of getting picked up by their date
Revisiting and Reconsidering Traditional Teen Dating Rules
If you don't know what big topics you want to discuss with your child, that's okay. You can still visit traditional dating rules and use them to have conversations with your child. Remember, talking about these as topics, instead of laying them out as rules, is more likely to make your child feel understood and feel like you trust them. Some traditional dating rules you may want to discuss are:
- No going out on dates during school nights
- No dating until your teen has reached a certain age
- There are strict age limits on dating partners
- There needs to be a parent present during hangouts
- The door must be open when your teen is hanging out alone with a date in your home
- A curfew must be put in place
- Partners are not allowed over at the house past a certain time
- Group dates are allowed, but one-on-one dates are not.
Creating and Enforcing Teen Dating Rules
After you talk to your teen about all the big-ticket items in the dating world that you want to cover, you can use what you learned in your conversations to come up with personalized dating rules that work for you and your teen. These rules will look different for everyone because they have different teens, personal experiences, and preferences. Doing whatever you need to do in order to make sure that your child is safe and prepared for the dating world will help both of you feel more comfortable, but there may be some things you need to keep in mind along the way.
Make It a Conversation
Parents, I know you know that it doesn't feel good when someone tells you what you can/can't do. And, your teen feels the same way. One of the best ways to help ensure that your child will actually be receptive to your rules and agree to follow them is if you make it a conversation. Talk to them. Work on creating rules together. Give your child some sense of autonomy and help them set rules alongside you in a partnership. If you tell your child to not date the drummer, they're going to date the drummer.
Listen to Your Teen
Listen to your child. Like, really listen. You can't know what kind of guidance or support your teen needs or is looking for off the top of your head. It puts too much pressure on yourself as a parent. It can also lead you to create rules that are ineffective because they don't apply to your teen's situation or are rules that other people tell you are important but that you might not even believe in. Only you and your child can come up with the best rules for your family.
Compromising is going to be important when establishing rules for teenagers. They are going to protest over some aspects and push back, and that's okay. Being flexible with certain rules will make your teen feel like you trust them. Also, they will be more likely to follow through with them if they think they are fair. At the end of the day, does it really matter whether your teen is home by either 8:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. as long as you know that they are safe?
Talk About How to Move Forward From Mistakes
Mistakes are a way of life. Your teen is bound to make them along the way as they navigate the dating world. For example, your teen may come home late or forget to tell you that they are hanging out with their partner after school. Talking to your child about how to move forward from mistakes is what's important. You and your teen may want to discuss consequences and action plans.
Go Easy on Yourself
Give yourself a pat on the back or a full-blown round of applause after you have had these conversations with your teen. Talking to your teenager about dating is not easy. Neither is figuring out what rules you want or don't want to have in your household. If you don't feel like you covered everything, or made a rule that you don't like, it's okay. You can keep having these conversations with your child as they continue to navigate the dating world. Your rules may evolve as they do.
Navigate Dating Rules for Teenagers Alongside Them
If you're a parent wondering what's the best way of going about creating dating rules for your child, know that you don't have to have all the answers... or even all the rules. Have conversations with your child about aspects of relationships and family life that are important to you, and bring your teen into the decision-making process. It also gives them agency in their dating life. You can use what you learn from your conversations to create rules or guidelines that are a great fit for your family.