It’s not uncommon when your teenager starts the junior high years for them to begin to talk about dating. How parents navigate this rite of passage into young adulthood sets the stage for helping your teen develop a solid self-worth and healthy dating habits.
One of the most important things to avoid is shame. For example, “You are way too young to date, not happening, forget about it.” While your teen may be too young to date, a response like this shuts down a healthy dialogue and does nothing to develop a level of trust between the parent and child.
If your child confides in you that they have an interest in someone and you immediately shut them down, they will learn from your response to keep secrets from you and they will avoid sharing with you.
Once your teen has a crush on someone, have a relaxed discussion about what qualities they admire about that person. Responding, “Oh she’s so cute,” does not promote an opportunity for your child to think more deeply about the qualities they admire in another person.
If your teen has an interest in someone you do not approve of, before you shut them down try to stay calm and dig a little deeper. Ask them what they like about that person. Help them develop emotional depth in this area and ask open-ended questions to promote a conversation, not a lecture.
Normalize the feelings of attraction for other people. Discuss that feeling attracted to another person emotionally and physically is a part of being human and very normal. You can also let them know that while this is a normal part of development, it’s not the time to have serious, intense romantic relationships.
This is a time to have fun, learn more about who you are, your gifts and talents, and to pay attention to what qualities you find attractive in other people.
The worst thing you can do is shut down the conversation altogether by making dating seem like an uncomfortable, shameful feeling that is embarrassing.
Be careful to acknowledge your own adolescent experience as you help your teen through this time. If you had horrible experiences dating or your parents were not open or trustworthy, work on being the parent you needed and wanted.
There is no magic age when you may give your teen the green light to begin dating. However, teaching them to be comfortable with their peers and encouraging them to develop their own identity is something you can work on at any age.
Likewise, if you see intense relationships beginning to develop that make you feel uncomfortable and raise your intuition, calmly discuss your concerns with your teen and set boundaries around how they spend time with others.
We all remember the houses that you could go to and hang out, where there was no supervision and the parents seemed more like best friends. While you want to promote an open, trusting relationship with your teen, you don’t want to create a dynamic where they don’t respect you or your boundaries.
If you are a single parent and dating, remember your teen is watching. Don’t expect them to have good dating habits if you keep introducing them to new people frequently. Keep your adult time private and separate until you are confident you will have a monogamous, committed relationship that has a future.
Do be vulnerable with your teen about the challenges you faced as an adolescent. Sharing your experience can help you deepen the bond with your teen and give them greater insight into why you set the boundaries the way you do.
The parenting journey is not about being perfect, it’s about being perfectly present. As humans, we all want to feel heard, validated, and supported. When you are a present parent, you are providing your child with the space to talk openly and safely without shame and embarrassment.
Even if you are not sure how to respond, it’s OK to let your teen know, “I’m not sure how I want to respond to you but give me some time to get my thoughts together and I will get back to you.” This shows them how to have a discussion and how to be vulnerable instead of responding with strong reactions that shut down dialogue.
At the end of the day a great motto to always remember is to be the parent you wanted and needed. That can help keep you present and aware.
Remember, it’s not about being perfect, but being perfectly present.