It’s a proposition that strikes fear into the hearts of parents: sending their teen out on a date. With a real person. Of the opposite sex. Unsupervised. Feel free to breathe into a bag if necessary.
One way to approach launching your child into the world of more independent relationships is to jettison the idea that there is a standard age at which all teens are ready for the responsibility—and the pressure. Our children, even within the same family, mature at varying rates and some need more time to develop the good judgment needed to date without suffering negative impacts. So what can you look for to discern whether your kid can handle it?
1. Transparency. If your teen is one who keeps a lot of secrets and rarely opens up to you about relationships with friends, that may become truly problematic when he or she is dating. You want to know that if your child had concerns—questions about physical boundaries, what is and is not abusive, how to handle a pushy boyfriend, etc.—she would come to you. If you don’t feel that those lines of communication are open between you, spend some time developing more back-and-forth before inviting greater challenges into his or her life.
2. Understanding of boundaries and expectations. Let us be blunt here: until you’ve had some real, candid conversations about the risks of premarital sex, and what appropriate boundaries you expect your teen to keep with members of the opposite sex, neither of you is ready for them to date. As awkward as those conversations may feel at first, you can’t afford to be ambiguous. And make sure your child understands why the boundaries are important, and how they relate to your religious and moral values. Until you feel like you’re both on the same page here, do not proceed.
3. Confidence. The dating world is hard. So many adolescents measure their self-worth upon the approval of their peers, and this is only magnified once they want the attention and affections of another girl or boy. If your child lacks adequate self-confidence, dating may prove to be disastrous. The insecure teen places too much value on the opinions of others, finds it hard to say no, and fears social or romantic rejection more than many of the real threats to their health and well-being out there. A break-up can be crushing, spawning depression and other problems. If your child struggles with self-confidence, let him or her spend a little more time under your wing developing the backbone needed to survive the hard knocks of the dating world.
4. Respect for authority. If your child doesn’t respect your rules currently with regard to spending time with friends, curfews, etc., you can bet that they won’t follow your guidelines for dating. Waiting until he or she displays a consistent respect for your authority and you won’t spend countless night pacing the floor wondering where he is.