Four Conversations to Have with Your Teen about Dating
Updated: Apr 2
Dating in adolescence can be a healthy and developmentally appropriate way for a teenager to explore their personal values, sense of self, and the increasingly complex social dynamics of adolescence. Teens often benefit from collaborative conversations and guidance when navigating new relationships, and especially while dating. Here are four practical conversations to explore with your teen about dating.
Collaborate on house rules around dating
Teens are developmentally primed to seek autonomy and explore their sense of self; however, teens also benefit from practical guidance and boundaries, especially when navigating complex new dynamics, such as dating. A great way to begin is to have a collaborative conversation about the house rules around dating. The word "rules" may make you think of a list of "don'ts", but this doesn't have to be the case. Keep the conversation positive by explaining that you have seen mature and responsible behavior from them, and that their behavior gives you a great reason to trust them to start dating. Then, explain to your teen that you want them to be safe as they date, and have positive and healthy dating experiences. Ask them what they think dating safely might look like, and collaborate with your teen about appropriate boundaries around dating. These might include curfew, transportation, can dates come home, who pays, where can dates occur, etc. By proactively initiating this conversation, you can help your teen explore their concept of boundaries around dating, and potentially avoid some conflict or confusion in the future.
2. Consent is Key
As with many conversations with teenagers, collaboration is a great tool you can use to provide your teen with age-appropriate guidance. Ask your teen about their understanding of the word "consent" as it relates to dating, both seeking consent from another person, as well as their own consent/non-consent being respected. Give them "red flags" that indicate unhealthy relationship dynamics, including pressuring language, "You have to (xyz), or else I'll break up with you/you don't love me/I'll tell people something negative about you, etc.", ignoring "no", imploring them to be secretive or to avoid friends and/or family, and of course any verbal or physical threats of harm or actual harm etc. Let your teen know that if they find themselves in this situation, that they should not stay quiet, but bring it up to you or another trusted adult so that they can receive guidance and support to stay safe, and that their safety is of your utmost concern.
3. Explain what to do if uncomfortable on a date
Before your teen goes on their date, explain what to do if they are in an uncomfortable situation, if they want to leave the date early, or if person they're on a date with isn't being respectful. Discuss ways they can stay safe, and encourage them to think about their own personal boundaries. You can express to your child that you will pick them up from an uncomfortable situation if they need you to. You can also give your child a "code word" or code sentence to text you in case they need an out. Explain to them that if you receive this text, you will know that they need a reason to leave the date, you will call them and give them an excuse to leave, or pick them up right away. If your teen does call you for help, it can be helpful to give your teen some time to process, and then invite an emotionally-focused conversation asking how they're feeling about what happened. Regardless if they share much or not, this question expresses to your teen that you care about their experiences and feelings and are willing to listen. This can help your child seize their developing autonomy, examine their feelings, reflect, and develop, all with your invaluable support.
4. Social media presence
Dating is now more virtual than ever. Teens may be pressured to share information or pictures online while talking with someone that they believe is interested in them, which can open them up to distressing or unsafe situations. Some apps state that pictures will be "deleted" or "removed" instantly, but unfortunately, no image online is gone forever, and may be shared, screenshotted, recovered, etc. Keep an eye on your teen's online presence and social media platforms, and explain to them the importance of online security and safety. Check for communication apps on your teen's phone, and look into the app's functions, safety measures, age restrictions etc. Check in with your teen about their internet usage, and maintain a general sense of what's available on social media and how often your teen is online. Keep an eye out for any unusual changes in your teen's behavior, mood, or priorities, especially if the changes seem to be related to their online presence or electronic devices. Teens may need increased guidance and boundaries to help them navigate the unending "pull" of social media. Maintaining an awareness of your teen's social media presence and internet usage can help you provide this guidance to your teen and open a fruitful conversation about online safety while dating.
Dating in adolescence is a new phase for both teens and parents. By continuing these practical conversations with your teen about dating, you can help them reflect on their experiences, develop personal boundaries, and safely explore new relationships.