It happens so fast; one day you’re raising a toddler and the next a teenager. Raising a teenager can be overwhelming, especially when they want to start dating; I am sure you can remember your own teenage years as well as your first date.
It may feel daunting to think about how to bring up the topic of dating with your teenager. The following guidelines will make this conversation a little easier.
1. Develop a Game Plan
The hardest part about talking with your teen about dating is having a plan. Before you have a conversation with your teen about dating, it is important to develop an idea of what you want to tell them. A good plan includes:
- Meeting with the teen’s other parents and/or stepparents. Discuss the topic of dating and the following items:
- Decide on a place, date, and time for the meeting. This should be a date and time that the other parent(s) can also attend.
- The purpose of dating and how he/she can please God through his/her relationships.
- Clear rules of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable when dating. It is important for all parents to be on the same page with these.
- Clear consequences for what happens when the rules are broken. It will be important for you to uphold these consequences.
Make sure to include time for your teen to discuss his/her thoughts, opinions, and feelings about what you have talked about.
2. Set Boundaries
Boundaries are extremely important in any relationship, especially in dating relationships. Cloud and Townsend (2000), who have written many books on boundaries, describe them as a “property line; where you end and the other person begins” (p. 28). It is important for you as a parent to model and teach your teen boundaries (Townsend, 2006).
Boundaries can often be confused with rules. While similar, they still have many differences. Boundaries define your interactions with others and can also provide protection against those who would take advantage of you. While you may have a few rules that define your boundaries, the purpose of rules are more to define appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
It is possible for your teen to break one of your rules for dating, but still respect your boundaries. For example, your teen may have been out past his/her curfew which is breaking your rules. In this situation, he/she can still respect your boundaries if he/she is able to treat you respectfully when admitting to the wrong and hearing the consequences. Here are some differences between rules and boundaries (Cloud & Townsend, 1992):
Set limits on behavior
Include feelings, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, choices, values, limits
Right and Wrong
Developed by individual
Developed by self or others
3. Develop an atmosphere of openness
When I say openness, I am not saying that anything goes in regard to your teen dating. The point here is to set up an atmosphere for your talk with your teen about dating so that it is open and safe. It is also beneficial to set up a relationship with your teen that is open where they feel comfortable to ask questions and share their opinions. Thoughts and opinions are not the same as actions, teens will often have ideas on things that make us cringe, but they may not act on these, instead choosing to honor their parents’ will.
When setting up a place and time to talk with your teen:
- Make sure you have enough time to have a thorough conversation.
- The place should be somewhere you can have a private conversation.
- Let your teen know you will be talking about this topic so they can prepare their ideas and opinions.
- It is important to have the other parent(s) involved in this conversation.
4. Listen and understand your teen’s thoughts and opinions
While you are the parent and have the last say, it is extremely important you allow your teen to have a turn to talk and discuss his/her thoughts, opinions, and emotions. Along the same lines, it is important that you communicate that you are open to listening to future thoughts and feelings about dating.
As a parent you may want to hear back verbatim what you said to your teen when they speak to you, but it is important to resist this urge. When your teen discusses his/her thoughts and opinions, your objective is to try to fully understand your teen’s thoughts and feelings and communicate this to him/her.
An important question to ask your teen and to discuss with them is why do you want to date? (Rainey, Raniey, Rainey, & Rainey, 2002). This question will give you information on your teen’s motivation for wanting to date, what they hope to get out of dating, and what your teen sees as the purpose for dating (Rainey et al., 2002).
This can also open the discussion of how you as a parent define dating and its purpose. It can also open the conversation on how to glorify God in your teen’s dating relationships. A few more questions to ask are:
- What do you think is appropriate and not appropriate when dating?
- How can you please God in your dating relationships?
- Where will you go for your dates? What do you plan to do on your dates?
- What do you think about the rules we have established for dating?
- What do you think the consequences should be if you break the rules?
5. Allow opportunities for your teen to build trust
When your child becomes a teen, it can be difficult to know how much to trust them. It can be even more difficult when he/she starts dating. It is understandable to be less trusting of your teen when they start dating due to not knowing how responsible he/she can be around the opposite sex (Rainey et al., 2002).
If your teen has no opportunities to show you as a parent that you can trust them, they may become resentful and want to rebel against your rules. When I use the word opportunities, it does not necessarily mean letting your teen date at a young age. There are many ways that you can give your teen opportunities to build your trust. The following examples may be helpful:
- Give your teen weekly responsibilities around the house. These can help your teen show you he/she can be responsible when you give him/her a task.
- Set a curfew with your teen. If he/she respects this time, then you may be able to discuss extending the curfew. If he/she does not respect it, then you will need to discuss the consequences.
- Discuss with your teen the expectation that he/she will inform you of his/her whereabouts when spending time with friends. Also, discuss with him/her how this can help you build trust.
- Allow your teen to spend time with friends and members of the opposite sex under your supervision. Let your teen know that if he/she can act respectful and responsible toward members of the opposite sex this shows you that you can trust him/her (Rainey et al., 2002). For example, volunteer to chaperone a youth group or school activity.
We are teaching our child stewardship. To those who steward what they have well, more is given, to those who do not, less.
Where does God come in to play?
This is a question that is asked all the time by Christian parents that would like their children to honor God in their dating relationships. This is an important question for parents and teens to think about and discuss. As the parent, where was God in your dating relationship? What would you change and keep the same?
For your teen, what do they believe the Bible says about dating and purity? As the parent, it is important for you to listen to your teen’s thoughts and seek Godly counsel in helping them fully understand how he/she can please God in his/her dating relationships. There is a passage in boundaries with teens that is helpful to review. One Bible verse that I find helpful is:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)
Guarding of your heart in a dating relationship is extremely important and is a great topic to discuss with your teen in relation to dating (Ethridge & Arterburn, 2004). Having an open discussion with your teen about this topic will continue to provide an open environment for the discussion of dating. Please see the Recommended Reading list for more ideas about advice on this topic.
If you are struggling to talk with your teen about dating or other adolescent issues, please contact The Relationship Center. We have professionals who can help.