When To Date

QUESTION:

I think that dating age depends on how mature and responsible a teenager is and should not be locked in by some age limit. I know some parents who think it should be whatever age the teen wants to start dating at. I am not quite that liberal though and think it should be a parental decision vs. the teen’s decision. What do you think? What dating standards did you have for your own children?

ANSWER:

Anyone who has read many of my advice columns knows that I regularly say, “There are no ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ in parenting, just ‘more effective’ and ‘less effective’ approaches.” When it comes to dating, however, I created a new category — “more or less risky” options.

They base this decision on their knowledge of each teen’s maturity and level of responsibility. They also consider whether the teens simply want to hang out and have fun with a friend of the opposite sex or want a hot and heavy romantic relationship.

As for the age to let teens start dating:

  • Usually, any kind of unsupervised alone time before the age of 12 is not wise.
  • Between ages 12 and 15 there can be some supervised outings, unsupervised group outings or family get-togethers.
  • By age 16, teens need some freedom and opportunity to socialize with friends of the opposite sex. A lot of parents try to avoid this issue by saying “they just won’t date,” but there are only two outcomes to that approach. Either you will give in or your child will rebel and sneak off!

Instead, Here are some ideas and rules we and other parents have used.
(I’m taking off my “parenting expert” hat and putting on my “Jody the Mom” hat):

  • At first do more double dating or group outings, especially before age 16. This is the closest my son got to dating before college.
  • We have to meet the date first and, preferably, have him visit at our house several times before they go out alone. This gave us a chance to get to know him better.
  • No car dates until age 16, because then our rule about no more than 2 people in one car comes into play. That’s a tough one…car safety versus personal safety. You have to trust the driver and both teens.
  • No movies as a first date. Being in the dark where others can’t see what you are doing and you can’t talk to each other is not an ideal way to get to know someone. I only allowed 2 movie dates for my daughter. One was on her first “first date” (8th grade) when I drove them there and sat in the back row of the theater! The other was the one and only time I gave in…and she had to walk out of the theater and call me to pick her up because he wouldn’t keep his hands off her! Needless to say I didn’t have to enforce that rule after that!
  • When they hang out at your house, give them privacy but in areas that are easy to walk past and glance over to see all was okay.
  • Suggest they do something active instead of laying around the house; it will keep idle hands and lips busy!
  • If bedrooms are the only place where a TV or video game system is located, then they have to keep the door open, sit up, and only one person is allowed to sit on the bed. It’s far better to just move the items to another room.

The last suggestion isn’t a rule. It’s to have very open communication about sex and love and dating and values. The more you LISTEN to your teens and share (not lecture) your opinions and values, the more your teens can develop their own opinions. You will also feel more trusting when your teen goes on a date if you know where your teen stands on these issues.

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Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. Currently, she hosts the Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.

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