During a young mom’s conversation with her 8-year-old daughter about her school day, the girl revealed she had a boyfriend. In her infinite wisdom, Mom said, “You are really too young to have a boyfriend. You should have lots of boys as friends at your age.”
The little girl sighed and said, “I know, but when I am 14, I will be old enough to date.” Somewhat surprised by the comment, the mother asked her daughter what you do on a date. Without hesitation, the daughter said, “You have sex.”
With all kinds of thoughts reeling through her head, the mother asked where she got that idea. The little girl said she had heard it from school friends who heard it from their older siblings.
That mother was shocked. But, should this really be a surprise? Have you ever talked with your teen about the purpose of dating or what happens during a date?
In an informal teen survey, many stated that the only dating conversation they’d had with their parents was about curfew and expectations concerning drinking and driving. Many parents believe that, “Nobody talked to me about dating and I turned out pretty good so what’s the big deal?”
Studies show that teenagers crave intimacy, and that adolescents start to date between 12 and 14 years old. In 1924, the average age was 16.
Research, however, has shown that serious adolescent relationships before either partner is emotionally mature can detrimentally affect identity formation – and even life and health. And, adolescents who date because of peer pressure or a need to belong can experience significant disappointment.
Teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, broken hearts and depression are common themes among those who work with teens. Plus, an estimated 15 percent of teen suicides are due to the breakup of an unhappy dating relationship.
When teens receive mixed messages from many directions about relationships, having parents who are willing to engage in a discussion about dating smarts is definitely a plus.
In his book, The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens, Sean Covey defines the difference in intelligent dating and brainless dating.
“Intelligent dating is dating successfully, being selective about who you date, hanging out and having fun, remaining steady through the natural highs and lows of romance, and keeping your own standards,” says Covey. “Brainless dating is dating ineffectively, dating anyone who has a pulse, becoming centered on your girlfriend or boyfriend, having your heart broken repeatedly, and doing what everyone else seems to be doing.”
Studies indicate that many of today’s teens are taking dating far too seriously. One out of three teenage girls report experiencing physical violence from a dating partner. Yet many of them stay in the relationship stating, “But I love him,” or “A bad relationship is better than no relationship at all.” Instead of understanding that teen dating is about meeting many different people and that breaking up is not a sign of failure, they’re convinced they will find Mr. or Mrs. Right in high school. Truthfully, very few people actually marry their high school sweetheart.
These six guidelines from Covey for intelligent dating are great jumping off points for discussion between parents and teens:
Don’t date too young – Dating too young can lead various problems, including getting taken advantage of, getting physical too soon, or not knowing how to end a relationship.
Date people your own age – Dating someone who is several years older than you isn’t healthy.
Get to know lots of people – Getting too serious too soon can cut you off from other relationships. Don’t be too eager to have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Date a lot of different people and have fun.
Date in groups – Group activities are often more fun, and there is safety in numbers.
Set boundaries – Choose what kind of people you will date BEFORE you start dating. Decide what is off-limits and don’t change your mind for anyone.
Have a plan – Before going on a date, prepare for the unexpected.
Teaching teens dating basics early on can save them a lot of heartache and prepare them for success. In addition to talking with parents, healthy dating relationship skills classes can teach them how to form healthy and stable relationships with family, friends, dating partners, and eventually, a husband or wife. Hopefully, the skills they learn will prepare them to make thoughtful choices before entering they tie the knot.