Five Strategies to Help Your Teen Deal with Post-Pandemic Anxiety
Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.
After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.
This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?
For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty.
As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3
If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing.
1. Keep the dialogue open.
2. Normalize their feelings.
Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important.
3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.
In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.
4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.
You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having.
5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.
If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.
One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:
There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on.
1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.
2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety
3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8
4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138
5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm
How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography
This is the actual conversation I had with my teen. All through middle school, we had talked about sex, his phone, and pornography, but it was more about warning him and encouraging him to make good choices. I realized that at his age now, he had undoubtedly seen porn. (The average age of first exposure is 8-11. 94% have seen pornography by age 14.) Even though I had never seen anything amiss when I checked his phone, it was time to hit porn head-on. So, I educated myself and just found a good time when we were alone and came out and asked.
The conversation was not as bad or awkward as I thought it would be. I set the tone by being calm and genuine. Plus, this was not our first “difficult” conversation. I have a track record of not freaking out and have built up relational “capital” with him that I can draw from. This helped a lot!
So, here we go…
ME: I know at your age and you having a smartphone, you have undoubtedly seen pornography. Your body is changing and being curious about girls and sex is healthy and normal. You are well past girls having cooties. There are other things about them that you are curious about now, right? So how about it, have you seen porn?
MY SON: [Chuckles about cooties.] Yes, I’ve seen porn. [Looks Away.]
ME: I get it. I’m not shocked or surprised. When was the last time you looked at porn?
MY SON: Three days ago. I know it’s wrong.
ME: Why do you think it’s wrong? [Notice I am probing gently, not lecturing. I am a concerned questioner, but I’m not bombarding him with a million questions. I want HIS thoughts.]
MY SON: I know it can become an addiction. I know it goes against my religious beliefs. And, I know it affects the way I look at girls and it’s just not good to fill my head with.
ME: Those are a lot of really good reasons. How’d you come up with them?
MY SON: I’ve talked with (his older brother of 8 years) about it. He asks me questions about it.
[ME INSIDE:] [Great job older bro!] What did he tell you about how porn is addictive? How did he explain it?
MY SON: He said the more I looked at it the more I would have to look at it… what “did it” for me before wouldn’t “do it” for me next time. He said I would start to see “real-life” girls only sexually.
ME: Do you know the science behind that? Your brain releases chemicals when you look at porn. One of them is dopamine and another is oxytocin. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical. You’ll want that feeling more and more BUT your brain will build a tolerance for it. It will take more and more porn and more explicit porn to get that feeling. It’s called “The Law of Diminishing Returns.” The chemical oxytocin is the chemical that creates bonds. It gets released when mothers have babies and people hug and kiss. Porn releases it too, creating a “bond” between you and pornography. It’ll become easier to bond with pornography than real people. Does that make sense?
MY SON: It’s like drug addiction?
ME: Yup. And it’ll affect how you look at girls in real life. Have you noticed that yet?
MY SON: Yeah. I’ve already noticed.
ME: If you look at porn, I want you to remember that that girl is someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. I have a daughter that’s your sister. [This felt a little old-school and even a little corny, but it got a strong reaction from him—he loves his older sister and did not like connecting those dots at all. No way.]
MY SON: Ewwwww…
ME: And what you might be enjoying with pornography destroys many of the lives of the people that make it. The drug addiction, alcoholism, and STDs among “porn stars” is crazy high.
MY SON: Don’t some of them make a lot of money?
ME: Some do probably, but at what cost? Did you know that a lot of the girls you see in porn are not there because they want to be—they’re there because of sex trafficking? Do you want to participate in that?
MY SON: No. Of course not.
ME: You know how for years I’ve talked to you about how great your heart is and how you need to protect it?
MY SON: Yeah.
ME: Nothing will harden your heart faster than pornography. You have to keep protecting your heart. The people that make porn have problems having real relationships in real life. So do the people that watch porn. So how often do you look at porn? How do you look at it?
MY SON: Once or twice a week. Free porn websites. The first phone you gave me blocked porn websites. When you upgraded my phone, you didn’t block porn websites.
ME: [This made me sick to my stomach. I was asleep at the wheel. I have to live with this.] I blew it then. How can I help you now not look at porn?
MY SON: Keep talking with me about it. Keep me accountable. You can change settings on my phone but it’s everywhere. We need to keep talking about it.
ME: I will for sure. And thanks for being so honest with me. You can always talk to me when you feel tempted. Let’s keep this conversation going.
Talking to your teen about pornography is not a one-time talk. It’s an ongoing dialogue. Hopefully, this helps you get your dialogue started. Don’t avoid it because it’s a hard topic. Lean into it because it is a hard and incredibly important topic. You got this!
I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.
While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like anything major.
Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.
“What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.
“The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”
A World Turned Upside Down
Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what happened, but seemed to keep their distance as if they didn’t know what to say.
Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say – so she never said anything at all.
As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.
I had questions:
- “Would we have to move?”
- “How would I afford college?”
- “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
- “What will my friends think of me?”
- “Why me?”
I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.
“Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.
“Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”
Teens Need a Strong Support System During A Divorce
In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.
“Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.
“Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give ‘permission’ to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”
Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.
Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:
- Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
- Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
- Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
- Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
- Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
- Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
- Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.
“Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says.
“The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”
They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.
I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”
He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them.
Ellen Pober Rittberg is the mother of three. She had three children in three years and she spent 13 years representing young people as an attorney. Both of these experiences have given her insight into the lives of young people which led to writing 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will.
“I wrote this book as a message to parents that you can do this,” says Rittberg. “I think that it is probably the hardest time to be raising a teen. There are threats to their safety, head-spinning technological advances, they are encouraged to dress provocatively by celebrities who they see dressing provocatively, and peers are more important to them than family. The book is really a form of cheerleading in an informed, honest and positive way.”
Rittberg believes the biggest mistake parents can make is to trust their teen all the time.
She cautions parents that in spite of the fact that their young person seems really smart, their judgment is defective. Shes says they will make poor decisions because they are adults in the making.
“35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will is the manual I wish I had had when I was raising my teens,” Rittberg says. “I didn’t want to be preached to and I didn’t want to read clinical pieces written by educators, psychologists or medical doctors. I wanted to know the practical do’s and don’ts, the big mistakes to avoid, what to do when you are at the end of your rope and ways to enjoy the challenge of raising teens.”
Rittberg encourages parents to be open to the fact that they can learn to be a better parent.
“When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a ton of books because I didn’t know how to parent,” Rittberg recalls. “We need to continue exposing ourselves to information that will help us be better parents. Parents also need to consider the values they want to impart to their children and how they will be intentional about doing it.”
Here are a few of the 35 things Rittberg wants you to know about when your kids won’t tell you things:
- You shouldn’t be your child’s best friend. We have a role as parents to be responsible and reliable. If you act like a teenager, your teen won’t respect you.
- Your child needs meaningful work. Anything that encourages a healthy work ethic and sense of family duty is a good thing.
- To know your teen’s friends is to know your teen. If you want to know what your teen is up to, get to know their friends. Make your house a welcoming place. You have to be there when they are there.
- A parent should not buy a child a car. There are large consequences to buying your child a car. The largest is that the child who doesn’t earn a significant portion of the car will likely total it soon after getting it. When they have worked for it they will take better care of it.
- Know your child’s school. School officials should know your face, what you do and that you want to help.
- Curfews are good. As the old saying goes, nothing good happens after midnight!
“Parenting teens is challenging, but you can do it and be good at it,” Rittberg says.
Parents and teens can have a mind-boggling relationship.
One minute they are yelling things like:
“I hate you!”
“Don’t speak to me.”
“Nobody else’s parents do that.”
The next minute you are holding their head while they are sick, they ask you to borrow the car or they want to snuggle up next to you on the couch. It’s enough to make your head spin and cause you to question, “Is this the same kid who said he never wanted to see me again minutes ago?”
Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart. When parents who are currently raising teens compare notes with those who have lived to tell about it, you might think there really is a universal playbook teens use to make parents question their sanity. At any given moment, you may even wish you could ground your teenager for life. BUT, that would defeat the whole purpose of adolescence.
Adolescence is when children learn the skills and strategies of adults and that takes time and patience. But honestly, the process can be painful for the whole family.
Consider these things:
- Parenting experts say that one of the reasons adolescence is so challenging is that parents often don’t recognize the strongest needs of their teen.
- Parents look into their teen’s world through adult eyes and needs. They tend to miss all of the change and internal conflict their teen is experiencing in continuing to have their needs for belonging, freedom, power and fun met.
- Parents need to feel in control whereas their adolescent is competing for his freedom.
- Both parent and teen have well-developed strategies for getting their needs met. These differing needs and strategies often intensify to the point that the relationship between parent and child becomes strained.
During adolescence, kids needs you more than ever before. Adults should not assume that once teens begin to look like adults they will automatically start thinking like an adult, relating like mature adults and making responsible decisions.
If you are leading an adolescent into mature adulthood, here are a few things to consider:
- Remember your own teenage struggles.
- Don’t panic. It is important not to let your fears control you.
- Don’t overreact. Most teens say they do not open up to their parents because they tend to overreact.
- Make sure to handle things in a way that builds your teen up versus tearing them down.
- Take time to enter your teen’s world – spend time with them, listen to their music, get to know their friends.
- Provide direction according to their needs… not yours.
- Understand that teens don’t want you to fix it for them. They want you to listen to them. A teen’s self-confidence is built through learning to problem solve and come up with reasonable solutions.
- Separate the behavior from the teen. Love your teen, but don’t be afraid to deal with unacceptable behavior.
- Develop a support network of parents who have been there, done that.
- Remember, you and your spouse are on the same team.
Raising teenagers is a predictable challenge for most parents. Keep perspective and recognize you will survive. After all, your parents did.
Image from Unpslash.com
“Raising kids through the adolescent years is like guiding your family in a raft through whitewater rapids,” says Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Running the Rapids: Guiding Teenagers through the Turbulent Waters of Adolescence.
Like going down the river trying to navigate rapids, rocks and other hidden dangers, there is definite risk in experiencing the adolescent years. In fact, it can be potentially destructive for parents, teens and the entire family. Leman believes that how you choose to travel the river makes all the difference for you and your teen. Some people believe that the teen years are the most difficult, but Leman would argue they are the best years.
“The teenage years are a wild ride, with good reason,” Leman says. “I encourage parents to talk with their kids before they become teenagers about some of the things that will happen or that they are likely to experience – including the idea that the day is coming when you are going to think your parents are really strange and don’t know anything.”
According to Leman, the goal during adolescence is not for parents to be their teen’s best friend. It is to be a smart parent.
There are three elements parents need to pay attention to as they guide their teen through adolescence:
- Major on the majors. Not everything is worthy of concern and debate. During his teen years, Leman’s son came to the dinner table and announced he was getting an earring. His mother was frantic waiting for Leman to handle this situation. Leman did not say a word. Three days later, Leman showed up at the dinner table with an earring. Several minutes passed by before his son noticed. Kevin squinted and looked at his father with disgust and said, “You look ridiculous.” To which Leman responded, “Really? Your mother likes it.” End of discussion.
- Learn to say positive things to your kids. Children are a gift. Make an effort to affirm your teen when he/she makes good choices.
- Find something your adolescent can do well. Emphasize this strength and help your teen feel accepted and special.
- “My friend Stephen Covey tells people to start with the end in mind,” Leman says. “That is exactly what I encourage parents to do. What kind of young adult do you want to see emerge at the end of adolescence? The decisions you make and the decisions your teen makes during the adolescent years will make all the difference in the outcome. I know many parents who choose to put their teen in the raft without a guide, but I believe if you are interested in the best outcome for your teenager, you will put him/her in the raft with you as their guide.”
As you navigate the whitewaters of adolescence, here are some additional thoughts on how to be a great raft guide for your teen:
- Give your teenager freedom, but hold him/her accountable.
- Sometimes parents are too quick to bail their teen out of trouble.
- Are you raising your teen in a home or a hotel?
- Mutual respect is the cornerstone of all relationships.
- Everybody’s thoughts and feelings have value.
- Watch your tone of voice. Rude behavior is not acceptable from anyone.
- Use nonthreatening communication.
- Laugh at everything you can and find reasons to have fun.
“In spite of what you might hear from the culture at large, parents DO make a difference in the lives of their children. They watch every move you make and how you live your life. Recently, I received a note from my 32-year-old daughter that said, ‘Dad, thanks for teaching me that people are more important than things and living that out in your life. Love, Holly.’
“Even if you are uncertain about your parenting skills, don’t be afraid to get in the raft and guide your teen through the rapids,” Leman says. “I have learned more from what I did wrong than all the things I did right.”
In a matter of days there has been a mass shooting at a Florida school, a drive-by shooting at a local eatery and bar, and a tragic accident resulting in a young mother’s death. Some say these events make them want to go somewhere and hide. Unfortunately, running away from it all is not an option for most people, but you can take steps to help keep your family members safe. And creating a family safety plan is a great step in the right direction.
We have all been taught to “stop, drop and roll” in the event of a fire, and for years we have taught children about stranger danger in an effort to avoid child abductions. Now, ready.gov says we should be ready to “run, hide and fight.”
Although the thought of having this discussion with your kids can make you sad, talking about it and sharing ways your children can protect themselves may help them feel more secure. Your discussion will certainly vary based on age, however.
For elementary-age children, the American School Counselor Association recommends the following for making a family safety plan:
- Try to keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
- Limit a younger child’s exposure to television and the news. This is actually good for adults as well.
- Be honest and share as much information as your child is developmentally able to handle. Listen to their fears and concerns. Reassure them that the world is a good place to be, but there are people who do bad things.
For older tweens and teens, specifically talk with them about how to take action should they find themselves in danger.
For example, if they see something, they should say something. Show them how to be aware of their environment and to notice anything that looks out of the ordinary.
In addition to these things, you can make a family plan to ensure everyone anticipates what they would do if confronted with an active shooter or some other type of violent situation. Look for the two nearest exits anywhere you go – the mall, a movie theater or restaurant – and have an escape path in mind or identify places you could hide.
If you ever find yourself in an active shooter situation, getting away from the danger is the top priority.
Leave your belongings behind and get away. Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow. Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be. Call 911 when you are safe, and describe the shooter, location and weapons if you can.
If you can’t escape, hide.
Get out of the shooter’s view and stay very quiet. Silence all electronic devices and make sure they won’t vibrate. Lock and block doors, close blinds and turn off lights. Don’t hide in groups – spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter. Try to communicate silently with police. Use text messaging or social media to tag your location, or put a sign in a window. Stay in place until law enforcement gives you the all-clear. Your hiding place should be out of the shooter’s view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.
As a last resort, fight.
Commit to your actions and act as aggressively as possible against the shooter. Recruit others to ambush the shooter with makeshift weapons like chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, etc. Throw items to distract and disarm the shooter, and be prepared to cause severe or fatal injury to the shooter.
Clearly, this sensitive and intense topic should be handled with the utmost care. You know your family and what is in their best interest. These are trying times for everyone, so make sure you take the time to listen to your children. Encourage them to ask questions and to share their thoughts and feelings. Watch for any changes in their behavior, too, because stress and anxiety can show themselves in different ways depending on the child.
Our world has changed, and many are experiencing a level of fear and anxiety that has not been present before. Sticking our heads in the sand or being unprepared is not constructive, and although accidents happen and you can’t prepare for everything, the best offense may be a good defense. Just as “stop, drop and roll” has saved many lives, learning protective strategies to implement and creating a family safety plan in the event of violence can also make an impact.
It is vital for teens to set and stick to dating standards as they build relationships. The role of a parent is that of teacher and encourager, not dictator.
Before your child gets to the level of maturity where he or she is ready to date, you should decide upon your dating standards. Determine how old your teenager must be to date. Set a curfew and describe in advance what the consequences will be for breaking this curfew and STICK TO THEM.
Additional expectations should be that your teen must always tell you:
- Where he/she will be;
- A phone number or numbers where he/she can be reached;
- Who he/she is going out with;
- What they will be doing; and
- When he/she will return.
- If they don’t know the answers to these questions, they don’t go out on the date.
- If he/she is going to be late, a courtesy phone call is expected to let you know about the situation; this does not excuse coming in after curfew and the consequences set.
- If your teenager is a female, let her know in advance that you expect her dates to come to the door to get her and to meet her parents.
- Your teen should always carry enough money to get a cab/bus ride home if necessary.
Items for discussion before your teen dates:
- Why does he/she want to date?
- What does he/she hope to have happen?
- Has your teen considered group dating? What are the benefits of group dating?
- If you have a daughter preparing to date, does she have an emergency plan in case her date becomes forceful or violent? The “It won’t happen to me” plan is not good enough.
- Encourage a first-date activity to be something that provides opportunity for lots of conversation.
- Talk with your teenager about treating their date with respect. What does that look like?
- Discuss the potential for hormonally-charged situations and how to avoid them.
- What kind of messages might your teenager send by the kind of clothes they are or are not wearing? If you are the father of a teenage daughter, think about this subject very carefully, and make sure your daughter knows that men can be easily aroused by…you fill in the blanks for her. Instruct your sons to be respectful.
- Who will be paying for the date? The parents or the teenager? What is a reasonable amount of money to spend on a date? Instruct your teenager that just because someone buys them dinner doesn’t mean they owe them anything.
- Make sure your teenager knows that you are there for them and willing to listen if they need to talk.
- If your teenager is female, talk about the dangers of dating guys much older than them.
- Discuss the idea that dating is about developing a growing friendship—NOT about having sexual involvement.