Teens and Dating (page 2)

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Mar 11, 2008

Who Influences Teen Dating?

Peers may influence a teen's dating life, but parents and families should have the final say. Families can provide support for their teens or add stress to their lives. Early teen girls who date and have parents who continually fight are likely to have low self-esteem. Girls who date early and have strict and emotionally distant parents are likely to be depressed. On the other hand, families can be a great support to their teens. For example, teen girls with warm, strong relationships with their mothers and who were not involved in steady dating had higher grades than their romantically involved peers12.

Ways to Discuss Dating with Teens

Parents and youth educators can use their knowledge of both the promises and pitfalls of dating in the teen years to discuss dating with youth. Some suggestions on how to communicate with teens about dating:

  • First and foremost, make sure you are building a caring, supportive relationship with your teen. That relationship serves as a model for the relationships she or he will have with friends and future romantic partners.
  • When your teen feels loved and supported, this will open the lines of communication and trust.
  • Provide educational opportunities for your teen to learn about the biological, social, and emotional changes taking place during adolescence. Youth are interested in knowing about maturity (growth spurts and male/female biological differences) and enjoy applying this information to real life.
  • Take time to find out about your teen's friends and schedule of daily events through conversation. This is a great way to learn about his or her peer network as well as what is important to your teen and his/her friends.
  • Ask your teen tentative, open-ended questions about potential romantic interests. Use active listening (see EDIS publication HE316/FCS 2151 on Active Listening). Avoid forcing the issue, though. Don't embarrass your teen by publicly expressing information he or she shares in confidence.
  • Be open to discussing your own relationship experiences with your teen. Share how you define a healthy versus an unhealthy relationship. If you are currently in a significant relationship, serve as a role model for healthy relationship behavior to your teen.
  • Talking about romantic relationships with preteens or early adolescents will not make them more likely to date. Instead inform your early adolescent or preteen of relationship myths they may have been exposed to by peers and media.
  • Ask your teen to think carefully about dating: whether he or she feels pressured to date; whether he/she knows of a teen couple who are having problems and why that may be the case; or what he/she thinks dating should be like. If possible, share what you know about the research in a caring and casual way.
  • Join your teen in watching his or her favorite television programs, particularly those that involve teens having romantic relationships. Refrain from commenting during the show and take time for discussion after the show is over. (For example ask your teen, "How might that situation really end up?", "What is healthy/unhealthy about this relationship?", or "What overall message do you get from this episode about teen relationships?").
  • Share with your teen the positives of dating later in adolescence. Let him/her know your views/values on dating with an optimistic attitude, using positive examples as needed. Avoid dwelling on the "dos" of dating.
  • Be willing to support your older teen's efforts to date, unless there appears to be a threat of psychological or physical harm.
  • Understand that your teen's identity as well as sexuality are still being formed and may be fragile. Avoid letting your values dictate your teen's sexual identity. Sexual minority (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered) youth usually face much confusion and difficulty during this time and need their parents support. (See EDIS publication FY749/FCS9237 on Understanding Sexual Minority Adolescents)
  • Inform your teen about the rules (and consequences) you've set on dating and why--the appropriate age, age of partner, curfews, who they'll be with, and contact information. Make sure to follow through with expectations and consequences.
  • Pay attention to the "double standard." Do you set different dating rules for your son and your daughter? For example, even though your early maturing 14-year-old son appears more confident and ready to date exclusively than his slightly older teenage sister, he still faces the risks of early dating (risk behaviors & poor academic performance).
  • Have positive ways to handle family conflict. Be flexible and willing to listen to your teens viewpoint and negotiate, without giving up your parental authority. Being too strict may lead teens to rebel by making poor dating choices or engaging in other risky behaviors.
  • Encourage your young adolescent (13-15 years old) to go on group dates without your direct supervision (however, trustworthy adults should be present) such as a movie matinee, cultural/educational events, shopping at the mall, a theme park visit, an outdoor activity, or a field trip.

Overall, its important to: 1) Provide a safe and secure base for your teen to communicate with you openly about his or her relationships; 2) Guide your teen with open-ended questions to think about his/her own expectations and values in relationships; and 3) Share your own wisdom about relationships with your teen.

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