Talking with Parents and Teens About Dating Guidelines
Adolescents benefit from parental guidance as they navigate social interactions and relationships. Pediatricians can help parents and teens discuss dating guidelines that will minimize exposure to high-risk situations while allowing the teen to develop decision-making and relationship skills.
Cultural shifts and use of technology, especially social media, are drastically changing how adolescents form relationships. This will, of necessity, impact the manner in which adolescents view dating, meet prospective friends/partners, and make decisions about friendships. Excessive use of social media may lead to high-risk behaviors that are detrimental to the long-term health of the adolescent and his or her families.(1) Adolescents should be taught to separate simple friendships from dating relationships. Dating should be engaged in seriously and considered integral to the process of finding a lifetime marriage partner who shares their values and goals.
Parents can help teens establish healthy personal boundaries by encouraging the teen to respect his or her own values and body. See “Conversation: Encouraging Children to Choose Sexual Abstinence Until Marriage” and “Conversation: Adolescents and the Benefits of Saving Sex for Marriage.”
PROMOTING STRONG, STABLE FAMILIES
- The development of healthy relationships outside of the family will allow the adolescent to practice new social and communication skills that will ultimately strengthen that adolescent’s future marriage.
- Avoiding high-risk behaviors during the adolescent years will not only protect the teen from the untoward consequences of those activities, but will also allow the adolescent to later enter a marriage relationship in a healthful manner—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Adolescents benefit from parental involvement in all areas of their lives, including their developing sexuality and dating experiences. Adolescents listen to parents and change their behavior when parents convey their values.(2)
Adolescents have immature brain development, especially in the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for decision making.(3)
Increased use of social media may contribute to an adolescent’s inability to appropriately evaluate the emotional status of another person.(4)
Adolescents who wait to participate in non-group dating until they are older than 15 years of age may experience fewer high-risk behaviors.5
This conversation usually occurs with young teens.
This conversation involves the parents and the adolescent.
During the middle school well visit, consider asking the parent and child if they have had a conversation about dating guidelines. If not, encourage them to schedule a special night together to discuss this important topic.
Encourage parents to share their values.
Encourage parents and teens to develop dating standards together, while remembering the teen is more likely to maintain the standards that are personally developed.
- Discuss how old the teen should be in order to date in a group.
- Discuss how old the teen should be in order to single date. (It is probably best for most teens to wait until they are older than 15 years of age.)
- Discuss the teen’s motivation for dating. Dating should be a way to develop friendships and communication skills rather than become sexually involved.
- Discuss scenarios that increase the risks associated with dating and how to avoid them; such as: Isolated environments, teen females dating older men, sexually charged situations, use of alcohol and drugs, dates that continue after midnight.
- Discuss information the teen will need to tell the parent before the date such as, where he or she will be, who he or she will be with, what activities they will be doing, when his or her return is expected, if something occurs that will cause a late arrival, a phone call is expected, when is curfew and what are the consequences for being late, parental expectations about meeting the person the teen will be dating.
Acknowledge that teens may find themselves in an unsafe situation, so discuss several ways for the teen to return home safely. Options include:
- The parent will pick up the teen without any questions; the message the parent is providing is, “I am so glad you called me. I want you to be safe.” A discussion of how the teen came to be in an unsafe situation can be held at a later time.
- The parent will provide money for taxi fare to return home.
- The teen always keeps money in a safe place for bus or taxi fare.
Acknowledge that teens may find themselves in abusive relationships, so parents and teens should discuss how teens can identify and extricate themselves from those relationships. Warning signs that a person is too controlling include: (6,7)
- When the controlling partner will not allow the teen to go anywhere alone or act independently, but instead insists the teen must spend time with only the partner.
- When the teen is losing contact with family and friends and not participating in other activities because the controlling partner forbids it.
- The controlling partner is allowed to participate in other activities, but the teen is not.
- The controlling partner determines all the activities and events, never allowing the teen to make decisions.
- The controlling partner always finds a way to blame the teen for anything that goes wrong, refusing to accept blame or acknowledge fault.
- The controlling partner often accuses the teen of inappropriate behavior or flirting and quickly becomes angry, not accepting or understanding explanations.
Encourage parents to have the teen look for inner qualities that would make a good lifelong spouse. Ask the teen to write out a list of qualities he or she thinks are important in a date or future mate and then encourage the teen to use that list in the future when deciding whether to date a certain person.
Parents should talk with their teens about strategies to avoid having dating relationships become sexual, such as not being alone together in private. Encourage them to not do anything that they would mind their future spouse knowing about and to discuss physical boundaries that can never be crossed with their date/partner.
Overall, parents want to give their teens a positive and nurturing message that dating is a good and normal part of teen life and that appropriate preparation for dating will maximize the chances of healthy and wholesome experiences.
Parents who are unable to complete this assignment should be monitored carefully for their ability to separate and/or differentiate themselves from their child and eventually their ability to appropriately set limits for the child.
1. O’Keeffe GS, Clarke-Pearson K, Council on Communications and Media. The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics. 2011;127:800-804.
2. Resnick MD, Bearman PS, Blum RW, et al. Protecting adolescents from harm: findings from the national longitudinal study on adolescent health. JAMA. 1997;278(10):823-832.
3. American College of Pediatricians. The teenage brain: under construction. http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/parenting-issues/the-teenage-brain-under-construction.
4. Uhls YT, Michikyan M, Morris J, et al. Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Comput Hum Behav. 2014;39:387-392.
5. Connolly J, Hguyen HNT, Pepler D, et al. Developmental trajectories of romantic states and associations with problem behaviors during adolescence. J of Adolescence. 2013;36:1013-1024.
6. Are you in a manipulative or controlling relationship? http://www.eharmony.com/dating-advice/about-you/are-you-in-a-manipulative-or-controlling-relationship/#.VFAwzudRE40.
7. Hartwell-Walker, M. Signs of a controlling guy. http://psychcentral.com/lib/signs-of-a-controlling-guy/0002644.
- American College of Pediatricians handout, How Far is Too Far? https://www.acpeds.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/HOW-FAR-IS-TOO-FAR-1.pdf.
- American College of Pediatricians handout, Strategies for Teens, http://www.acpeds.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Strategies-for-teens32.pdf.
- American College of Pediatricians handout, Strategies for Parents of Teens, http://www.acpeds.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Strategies-for-parents-of-teens1.pdf.
- American College of Pediatricians, Suggestion for Parents and Teens, https://www.acpeds.org/parents/sexuality/sexual-responsibility-2/suggestions-for-parents-and-teens.