It seems like it happened over night. Your daughter who once played with Barbies is now communicating with someone on her cell phone until the wee hours of the night. Your son who once played in the mud is now completely image focused, and has become very hyper aware of making the 'right impression.' For many parents, navigating the transition from childhood activities to dating life is one of the most intimidating aspects of parenting. How do you enforce rules around dating? How do you give your child the freedom to learn about themselves through relationships while at the same time protecting them from getting hurt? How do you teach a child to recognize that someone might be about to hurt them emotionally? As daunting as all of this seems, covering these crucial aspects of dating life will be extremely beneficial to helping your teen develop positive dating habits.
1) Talk about Healthy Relationships: Romantic movies lead us to believe that true romance is being together ALL the time and being involved in EVERY aspect of a person's life. Talk with your teen about what a healthy relationship means to them. How do they know when a person is respecting their choices? How can they enjoy dating but ALSO maintain their outside interests and friendships?
2) Talk about sex in a realistic way: Even though it can be really easy to want to just present your teen with facts, be sure to give them the space to discuss THEIR personal opinions about sex. Encourage them to expand on their ideas. Why do they think that they have this belief? Who or what do they feel has taught them the most about sex? Discuss the pros and cons of sex and give them the opportunity to voice any concerns that they have about sex. Allowing them to talk openly is the most sure fire way to reduce the chances of dangerous liaisons or sexually transmitted diseases.
3) Talk about the difference between lust, love and infatuation: Infatuation is exciting and love is something that grows. This is something that can be difficult for teenagers to grasp, so be sure to discuss how a teenager might be able to recognize the difference, whether that is in their own feelings or in someone else's feelings towards them.
4) Set expectations and boundaries but be sure to offer your support: Discuss with your teen upfront any rules you have about how they date, what their curfews are, who will pay for dates, and where you feel comfortable with them dating. At the same time, let your teen know you are happy to drop them off or pick them up ( and pick them up from a date that they feel might not be going well) and make sure they know that they can come to you with questions and for support.