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. Some just need more dating advice.
But others need more time to develop the good judgment needed to date without suffering negative impacts. Our children, even within the same family, mature at varying rates. So what do you need to see in your teen to discern that he or she is ready to date? These four traits.
If your teen keeps a lot of secrets and rarely opens up to you about relationships with friends, problems may arise when he or she dates. You need to know that if your child has concerns about a significant other or questions about physical boundaries, what is and is not abusive, or how to handle a pushy boyfriend or girlfriend, he or she would come to you. If those lines of communication aren’t open yet 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.
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 him or her to date. As awkward as those conversations may be at first, you can’t afford to be ambiguous. Explain why the boundaries are important and how they relate to your religious and moral values. Until you’re both on the same page here, do not proceed.
Dating is hard. So many adolescents measure their self-worth upon the approval of their peers and this is only magnified once they want attention and affection from a girl or a boy. If your child lacks adequate self-confidence, dating may prove to be disastrous. An 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 real threats to health and well-being. A breakup 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 he or she needs to survive the hard knocks of the dating world.
4. Respect for authority.
If your child doesn’t respect your rules with regard to spending time with friends or curfews, you can bet that he or she won’t follow your guidelines for dating. Wait until he or she displays consistent respect for your authority and you won’t spend countless nights pacing, wondering where your teen is.
What do you know now about dating that you wish you had known as a teen?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.