If you’re unsure how to discuss dating with your teenager, you’re not alone. Most parents are uncomfortable going anywhere near the topic of sex with their child, especially when that child is entering adulthood. Maybe you remember how difficult this time was for you, and you don’t want your child to go through the same painful process of dating and breaking up . . . or maybe you’re scared that your child will see the “dating talk” as permission to become sexually active. Your fears are legitimate, but nowhere near as dangerous for your child as a lack of information about dating.
If you’re ready to have the ‘dating talk’ with your teenager, read over this list to mentally prepare yourself.
- Decide beforehand what your approach to dating will be with this particular teenager. Is this child of yours ready for dating? Are you prepared to let your son or daughter out of the house with a potential romantic partner? There must be trust and open dialog between you and your teenager on the subject of dating, especially if you’re about to talk to them about dating. If you feel this child is not ready to date, say so, give the reasons why, and let that be the conversation starter. If, on the other hand, you do think the time is right for your teenager to go on dates, list the reasons why, and begin the conversation by setting the ground rules.
- As soon as the message about your teenager’s “dating status” is clear, it is time to talk Pros and Cons. Think back to your own teenage years and dredge up some good and bad memories about dating. Try to weigh the good and bad equally — you don’t want to scare the kid with horror stories about being stood up, embarrassed, or hurt without providing equal example of great friendships made, positive dating experiences, and the ways in which dating helped you “grow up”. Remind teenagers that dating can be expensive and time consuming, though mention the many possible rewards as well.
- Now is the time to make it clear that your teenager can come to you for advice or help at any time, no matter the problem — even if you don’t really feel this way. Look, your teenager is about to start dating, and that means the possibility of pregnancy, STDs, or just plain old questions about sex. You need to establish a back-and-forth between the two of you. Let your teenager know, using specific language, that you are a source of information on the topic of dating and sex, and that no questions are too embarrassing or too dumb to be asked.
- Which is a nice segue into sex. Remind your children of your opinion on sex between teenagers, which you’ve probably established at some point as a parent. If possible, use a religious text or spiritual guidebook that your family holds dear to give examples of what sexual activity is appropriate, etc. You’re not getting out of the sex question without a little bit of a fight, so be prepared.
- A little role-playing never hurt anybody — by this point in the conversation about dating, you’ve set up the guidelines about dating, established a gameplan about sex, and talked about the pros and cons of dating. Run through some scenarios with your teenager so they can see what you’ve taught them in action. Some lessons to teach via role-playing — “No means no”, not just for sex but in any uncomfortable situation, “Don’t do drugs”, “Don’t drink”, this sort of thing. Your teenager will thinks this is the lamest thing ever, but playing out a few conversations to show your teenager the right thing to do is a great way to reinforce the lessons you’ve taught.
Talking to your teenager about dating doesn’t have to be a train wreck. Write out a game plan beforehand, go over this list of suggestions, and remember that your teenager really is looking to you for guidance on this topic. Now the tough part — you have to be both a parent and a friend.