If you have a teenager, it is very likely that he or she is dating, or is at least showing interest in dating.
As a parent, you may be thinking, “I’m not ready for this!” or “My child is too young to be dating!” But, rest assured, the time is here, and it is better to be prepared for it than not.
Although it is often perceived that “young love” is innocent and inconsequential, this is not the case. Every year, 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience some sort of physical abuse from their dating partner.
The numbers are staggering, and, yet, it seems that no one is talking about it. Of those in an abusive relationship, studies indicate only 33 percent of teens ever told an adult about the abuse. In addition, 81 percent of parents do not believe that dating violence among teens is a problem, or admit that they do not know if it is a problem.
So, if you haven’t already, now is the time to discuss dating with your teen. To help ensure your teen has a positive dating experience, here are a few things to consider when preparing for your conversation.
Age matters • Dating is different for a middle-school-age teen and an upperclassman in high school. For teens in middle school, group activities such as school dances, going to the mall, movies or sporting events will give your teen a chance to spend time with a boyfriend or girlfriend in a supervised environment. Individual time for teens this age will typically be spent on the phone or via text message. One-on-one activities in dating are more appropriate for older teens.
Rules • Depending on the age and maturity of a teen, parents need to decide what guidelines they will set for their teen in regard to dating. Will your teen’s curfew be different when out on a date versus out with friends? What dating activities are considered appropriate? Is it OK for your teen to date someone a few years older or younger? These guidelines are important to establish early on so there is not confusion in the future.
Sex • Even if you have already discussed sex with your teen, now is a time to revisit the subject and remind your teen of your family’s values and expectations.
Healthy relationships • Being in a healthy dating relationship as a teen can have its benefits. It can teach your teen to practice their communication and social skills, learn to think of others when making decisions, and how to apologize and forgive. However, it is important to remind your teen that a healthy relationship is one that is fun and based on respect, and neither party should ever feel physically or verbally pressured or abused.
Risks • As most adults already know, many teen relationships end up in heartache. Experiencing a broken heart is hard at any age, and every person reacts differently. It is important for parents to be ready for this aspect of teen dating as well.
Lisa Hadley is a parent education specialist for St. Louis Children’s Hospital parent helpline. Call 314-454-8336 for information and support on ways to promote mental health with your children and teens, as well as specific referrals to mental health providers.