“Don’t ever start dating until you graduate university!” I still remember this constant reminder from both my parents ever since I hit puberty. They would even spy on me when I’m out with a group of friends. Well, it obviously didn’t work. Instead, it only instilled fear in me and I could not share anything with them. Not even my first heartbreak when I wish they could be there for me. Parents would regard this as rebellious, but come to think of it, we had no choice.
It is common for parents to be uncomfortable with the idea of your child becoming more grown up. However, it is also common for teens to explore what relationships feel like, whether or not they are dating. You might not love the idea of your child dating but it is important that you are present throughout the process because they still need your support and love because they may not even know what dating is. So, in the circumstances where your child starts dating, what should you do?
Don’t live in the denial that your kids will always be kids forever. The fact that your child will grow up and someday be in the arms of another person is inevitable. Instead, you have to embrace the change and allow them to open up to you about their feelings. You wouldn’t want them learning the rules of dating from peers or the media, without your input.
After all, dating serves a very important purpose in every teen’s development. As we all know, relationships and healthy dating take a lot of practice, trial & error, and experience. Through relationships and even heartbreaks, teens learn to be more confident when interacting with members of the opposite sex, dealing with their emotions, learning from mistakes and eventually knowing what is best for them.
Figure Out what ‘Dating’ Means to Your Child
You and your child may define ‘dating’ different. A 10-year-old girl may say, “Peter’s my boyfriend”, but what does she mean? At her age, she may just assume sitting together in class or at recess as “dating”. Teens may think that they’re dating when they are merely texting online and maybe just holding hands in school.
The first order of business with your child should be to ask them to define what they think about dating. You could start with an opening line like: “It sounds like a lot of kids are talking about dating now. Is that something you’re interested in?” Otherwise, you could also make it more casual by discussing it over TV shows or movies that are age-appropriate.
Be kind with your words. Their teenage romance may be just ‘puppy love’ or ‘crush’ to you, but it’s very real to them. Do not trivialise or make fun of your child’s first relationship as this will only discourage them to be honest with you.
Let Them Understand What Love Is
Dating and relationship is a subject of unending interest and curiosity for teens. However, the question is whether your child is really in love with someone in particular, or are they just trying to experience ‘dating’ to keep up with what their friends are doing?
Let your child open up to you with your own effort to open up with them. Share with them your love stories from past relationships and how you found ‘the one’ who is their mother/father. Let your child understand that the person they are currently interested in may or may not be the person they marry. This is to ensure that they’re mentally prepared to face any heartbreak that is yet to come.
Children will be genuinely interested in their parent’s courtship, marriage and if applicable, divorce. Having an imperfect relationship ‘resume’ does not disqualify you from initiating this conversation. It is okay to let your child know because they will learn to not repeat the mistake you made. That way, they will not be afraid to ask you for advice when it comes to love.
Ensure That Your Child Have Boundaries
You should take your child on their first date!! Just you and your child, on a real date. Let them experience how a date should be and show them a good model of good behaviour to look for in their partner.
Do not be embarrassed to openly discuss other related topics such as respect, values & principles, sex health, drugs and alcohol. This is to ensure that if your child’s partner violates their conscience and boundaries, your child will be wise enough to not cross those boundaries for anyone and dump him/her immediately.
It is important to be clear with your child about your expectations. You’re their parents after all and as much as you are open about dating, there should be some fine guidelines they should follow. Let them understand that there should be mutual respect between parents and children.
Teenage relationships can gather steam quickly, so you have to be aware of warning signs too. If your child’s grades are affected and they are spending lesser time with their friends, consider limiting how much time is being spent with that special someone.
You could have expectations like:
- Keeping you informed about their whereabouts
- Sexual health and restrictions
- Making good choices
- Use of alcohol & drugs on dates
- Not forgetting to maintain friendships
So, at what age is appropriate for a child to date? There’s no right answer as it depends highly on each child’s emotional maturity and sense of responsibility. 16 years old may seem to be an appropriate age, but it may also be entirely suitable for a mature 14 years old to go on dates. Remind yourself that your child is growing up and it is totally normal for them to experience teenage romance. Just ensure that you are there for them throughout and be clear of your rules & expectations for them.
Do read our article “Helping Your Teen Cope with Their First Heartbreak”, a sequel to this article!
Parenting in the Digital Age
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