The time has come, or it will be coming sooner than you imagine is possible: Your child comes home with stars in his (or her) eyes, sure that true love has been found. Your son might say that he’s “going out” or “dating” someone, or your daughter might throw you for a loop by casually mentioning that she’s planning on “hanging out” with a certain special someone. Whether this happens when your child is 10 or 16, you might scramble a bit as you try to determine what’s appropriate at what age. While this is something that every family has to decide on its own, here are some things to think about and discuss with your child:
- In most cases, dating should begin with group outings. “Group dates” are popular in the middle school years, and usually involve a roughly equal number of boys and girls. Kids might be paired up, or they might not be. In some cases, one or two of the kids might have an interest in one or two others, and the rest might just be friends. If your pre-teen or young teen wants to start dating, this might be an option that you’d consider reasonable. It gives kids a chance to practice their social skills with those of the opposite sex, and provides the relative safety of several other kids their age in their company. Kids might go on group dates for ice cream, to the movies, bowling, and to other casual public venues.
- If your child wants to start dating and you are uncomfortable with the idea, consider letting them have dates at home, with you in the house to supervise. This doesn’t mean that you’ll sit between them on the sofa while they watch a movie, but it usually does mean the kids stay in a public area of the house where a parent or sibling might stroll through or peek in at any time. As a mom, your job is to find some things to do in the kitchen or in other adjacent rooms to keep yourself busy while also keeping an ear and occasional eye on things. You should also spend some time talking to both kids, maybe over lunch or dinner. This can allow your guest to get to know the whole family as he gets to know your child.
- One-on-one dates become appropriate when you are able to trust your own child to make good decisions. In many families, these begin at some point during the high school years. If the kids aren’t old enough to drive, then that builds in some parental involvement, but once they have their drivers’ licenses and you allow car-dates, you have a lot less control. Obviously, this can only come after you have had frank discussions with your own child about behaviors that are and are not appropriate. Your child needs to know where you stand on sensitive issues pertaining to physical intimacy, and needs to know all of the facts about how to keep him- or herself safe and healthy.
Teen dating is a delicate topic and can be a difficult part of the transition into adulthood for parents to accept and deal with. Most kids will want to be dating before the high school years are over, though, so you’ll need to come to some agreement within your family what the guidelines are. Open communication can go a long way in making you feel comfortable and helping your child to make good decisions.