When should teens start dating?

As the parent of a teenager, do you find yourself facing the looming terror of the dating years?

As the parent of a teenager, do you find yourself facing the looming terror of the dating years?

Maybe you are even the parent of a child in elementary school and are already getting anxious about how to broach this topic with your child. I was told by my dad that I wasn’t to date until I was 30, although I’m sure he would have preferred never. As I’m sure many of you find yourselves with similar thoughts, it’s a topic worthy of discussion. Do I have all the answers regarding the ideal dating age, amount of supervision, curfews or open door policies? Absolutely not. But let’s take a swing at this together.

As parents, we seem to constantly struggle to meet our roles as teacher, role model, chef, chauffeur, and though the list goes on and on, one major role we strive for is that of friend.

Inevitably, one ball will be dropped as it sometimes seems impossible to meet the roles of the disciplinarian and that of friend. Though I highly doubt that one person can meet each of these roles 100 per cent of the time, one can always hope and continue to work towards this goal. With this in mind, let’s continue our conversation.

What is a good age to allow teens to start dating? My best advice is, unfortunately, that it may depend on the teen and how they define dating. I would suggest that this is a good question to ask your youth when this topic comes up. This helps build their trust in you, that you can handle potentially difficult situations and information without losing your cool, and it builds your trust and confidence in them for discussing it with you openly. If your teen defines dating as going out to eat and a movie, I would say they have a healthy understanding of this new type of relationship. If they explain dating as the horrific images that come to any worried parent’s mind, a discussion may be needed to reframe their understanding of a date.

Does this task seem daunting? Although I’m sure it does, it shouldn’t. Most teens will respect you for calmly speaking with them about this. And to give you some added encouragement, depending how early this conversation is occurring, they may need some help or advice. They may have asked someone out or been asked out but may worry that a date for them may look different than a date for the other person. Put their minds at ease.

Come up with some brilliant advice and show them that they came to you for a reason; because you do have some answers!

How late do I let them stay out? This question ties somewhat into the last one. The older the teen, often the longer we let them stay out or the more responsibility we trust them with. Very mature youth with a healthy understanding of dating may receive more confidence and opportunities. Although despite their maturity, if this is their first date, for the sake of all involved, a shorter date may be best. Another factor in this decision may be what they plan to do for the date; a sport with friends, a movie, or going over to someone’s house. Obviously, you may be more concerned with the last scenario, which may warrant a shorter date time. Knowing the teen who is taking your son or daughter out will also impact this decision,

Now I hope I have not struck you with panic regarding aspects of dating that you maybe have not yet considered, or frustrated you if your parenting choices are different than those I have listed. These suggestions may work for some teens or parents and not for others, so take it with a grain of salt. You need to do what works for you and your family, which may take some trial and error but that’s typical of being a parent! Whatever you choose, be confident and open to discussion, and your kids will appreciate it.

Positive Parenting appears every week in LIFE. This week’s column was written by Jessica Hartel, facilitator of the Kids Matter program with Family Services of Central Alberta. Hartel can be reached by calling 403-343-6400 or www.fsca.ca.

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