As your children grow into their teen years, the next drive they will experience is that for intimacy and to develop romantic, even sexual, relationships. As parents it is only natural for us to worry about the heartache and turbulence that dating may bring about in their lives. This too is natural. As parents our jobs isn’t to protect and shelter our children from life. On the contrary, it is to encourage them to face life’s challenges by supporting them and offering possibilities for them to develop skills and personal resources to face them.
What should I do when my teen is ready to start dating?
Keeping an open communication is always ideal so that children feel that they are able to discuss openly with the adults in their life. As an adult, one should take a stance of asking questions without imposing their own judgements. By listening and taking interest in what your child has to say, when he or she feels comfortable in saying it, your child feels safe and free to discuss matters with you. When we react from a defensive and authoritarian place, we push our children away and lead them to withdraw their communication with us. This does not mean that we do not set boundaries or explain that there are certain rules to be followed and expected. However, communicating these and discussing our different opinions means that children are encouraged to think and reflect, rather than simply obey or rebel.
This communication is especially important even when it comes to matter of safety. Safety in relationships needs to take into account different types of abuse and control that one may face, sexual consent and safety precautions, knowledge about drugs and substance abuse, how one may communicate and balance the relationhsip with perhaps important academic targets, how to balance freinds and social life together with an important romantic relationship, and also certain expectations like curfews and where dates are going to be held.
What is the difference between online dating and dating in person?
When it comes to online dating, teens need to be aware of how individuals may not present who they really are, by creating fake identities and giving the wrong information. Also, virtual relationhsips may have a higher risk of privacy violation. This is especially important when it comes to sexting and exchanging images that may be used for a different purpose than what the teen may have intended. Boundaries need to be set here too, and teens should be encouraged to focus on other things in their life, rather than to seclude themselves to their room and chat for long periods of time, whilst missing out on social or other events that enrich their life.
What happens when my teen decides to meet in person?
As mentioned previously, communication is very important even more so when they are meeting someone for the first time. Ideally teens are taught to meet in the company of another, ideally the adult. Different scenarios may be discussed about how to keep safe, such as meeting in a public place and the adult is close by, meeting with their friends and staying together, inviting the other person to meet with the adult in a public place, etc. Teaching your children to be safe, empowers them to react in ways where they can keep themselves safe without being pressured into feeling guilty or pressured into doing something that they do not feel comfortable doing.
As a parent this may be a challenging phase and our initial reaction may be defensive, especially if we are not very comfortable with online dating. By being aware of what is happening and discussing these matters with other adults, informing oneself and being open to discussion with our teen, we are encouraging an open relationship and we are available to support them if the situation is difficult or challenging. Like this we are also providing safety for our teen to look to when the need arises.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.