We are gonna look at your question about teen dating in reverse order—hang in there, but I want you to do something first: empathize.
How do you think your teen feels knowing that their parent(s) don’t like this person who they obviously think is special? That’s hard. If you have a healthy relationship with them, it’s even harder. Your teen doesn’t want static with you while they believe they are just following their heart. Oh, you haven’t expressed your dislike of this person they are dating? Trust me, they know. Which means their significant other probably knows too. Put yourself in their shoes a minute. To them, all they’ve done wrong is to be attracted to the wonderful teen you raised. This is hard all the way around. But it doesn’t have to get any harder.
Question 1: Is your teen actually “dating” this person?
I just have to ask because things have changed so much from when we were teens. It’s a lot more common to hang out with someone. Your teen (at least) might not even have any romantic interest in them. You might not even know about the person they are interested in romantically because your teen spends hours in their room hanging out with them on FaceTime or some other app on their phone. So, let’s define some terms here.
Just to be sure, ask (don’t interrogate) your teen these questions to make sure they are actually dating:
- Do you have romantic feelings for this person?
- Are you and the person you’re interested in both looking for an exclusive relationship?
- Do you hang out or go on dates without a group of friends?
- Is the status of your relationship something you’ve shared with others in person or online, like on social?
- Do both people in the relationship agree that it’s exclusive?
Question 2: Your teen is your top priority—are they ready for dating?
I wouldn’t give my kids an age when they could start dating. It depended on whether my wife and I thought they were mature enough to handle the responsibilities and the dangers—both emotionally and physically—of being in a dating relationship. (Just because the state will give you a driver’s license on a certain date doesn’t mean you’re ready to drive. I’ve told a couple of my kids that the state may think you’re ready—I don’t though…)
Does your teen respect your boundaries in other areas of their life? Have they shown you they are trustworthy? Has your teen shown that they can set up and enforce their own personal boundaries? Have you talked to your teen about the significance and consequences of sex? Have you talked to your teen about the warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship? Does their significant other or your teen ever do any of the following bright red flags of abuse:
- Checking your cell phone or email without permission
- Constantly putting you down
- Extreme jealousy or insecurity
- Explosive temper
- Isolating you from family or friends
- Making false accusations
- Mood swings
- Physically hurting you in any way
- Telling you what to do
- Pressuring or forcing you to have sex or go further physically
Have you set up a “code word or phrase” with your teen, so that if they are on a date and feel uncomfortable for any reason they can call or text you to “check-in” and mention “shopping next week” so you know to get them out of that situation?
Question 3: Who is this person and why don’t you like them?
We have to be careful here and we need to be honest. Does this person just not fit the idealized boyfriend or girlfriend you’ve had in mind for years? Have you idealized your teen and this person just isn’t “good enough” for them, or you think “They could do better?” Have you not just “set the bar” high, but set it impossibly high? No teenager is perfect, and honestly, the teen that seems perfect is probably the one you really want to keep your eye on. Imperfect doesn’t mean dangerous. This might be a “you” thing.
Have you seen changes in your teen that concern you since this person has become a significant part of their life? Are you worried that your teen is “building their world” around this individual and now your teen’s priorities have shifted? Grades slipping? Personality changing? Doesn’t want to be around the family anymore? Doesn’t want to bring their significant other around to hang out with the family? That is concerning behavior! But it could be signaling that your teen just isn’t ready for a dating relationship with anyone right now.
Question 4: What do you do now?
I know you wanted to get here right out of the gate, but we had to do some processing before we took a course of action. We needed to make sure we understood the problem so we could find the right solution.
In general, I always communicated to my children that realistically, marriage is nowhere in your future and you need to be focusing on your educational and career goals, family, friends, and discovering your interests, skills, and passions in life—so now is not the time for a relationship that is a mini-marriage. Those only lead to a mini-divorce and leave scars and baggage you have to carry around the rest of your life.
I always encouraged my kids to do things in groups or have people over to our house. If they were seriously interested in someone, bringing them around the house was not an option, it was a necessity. If their “special interest” wasn’t comfortable coming into my house, then I wasn’t comfortable with my child outside of my house with them. Period. Full stop.
So, here’s where we are:
- Is your teen not ready to date?
- Are you not ready for your teen to date?
- Is the person your teen wants to date dangerous or a bad influence? Emotionally or physically?
- Is the person your teen wants to date just a normal, flawed teenager, like your teen?
✭ Bonus Question: What do you believe (and what have you taught your teen) is the purpose of dating at their age?
In his book, The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens, Sean Covey defines the difference between 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.”
- Don’t date too young. Dating too young can lead to 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.
Dating “intelligently” is a great way for a teen to learn about how relationships work, learn their likes and dislikes, socialize with their peers, improve interpersonal communication skills, and hopefully have fun with their friends.
If your teen is dating someone that falls in that “They Aren’t Dangerous, But I Don’t Like ‘Em” category, remember no rings have been exchanged. See if your teen figures it out. That’s what this time is for.
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