The final release bell echoes out across the halls and every eager teenage is anxious to be let out from their classes and dive into the freedom and possibilities of their upcoming summer. With summer, there is more time in their schedules for earning money at their summer jobs, spending time with friends, and of course teenage dating! Many parents first experience overwhelm as they consider this step in their kids’ lives and can find themselves flooded with thoughts such as, “It’s way too soon!, Are they ready for this?, How can I meet someone they’re dating? Is it weird that I want to meet their parents?” This article will explore several do’s and don’ts to discuss with your kid as they navigate their way through a new dating world while remaining true to themselves as they search for healthy relationships throughout their lives.
Teenage Dating Boundaries
Feelings vs. Attraction – To help your children recognize the difference between noticing someone is attractive vs. wanting a relationship with someone, it is crucial that parents have discussions about practicing honesty when dating. This can look like encouraging your teen to pay attention to when they’re starting to like someone, and directly asking that person if they’re wanting to date exclusively or not. And vice versa, if your kid is noticing that they’re not ready for a steady girlfriend/boyfriend, give them language to be assertive about this in a respectful way with their peers – it’s okay to not feel ready!
Media vs. Reality – Just about all parents have witnessed the impact of social media on their kids – with seemingly constant comparisions and feelings of inadequacy that kids are grappling with, parents are often left thinking, “It doesn’t matter what I say, they’re going to see that!” When it comes to the dating sphere, there are expectations and pressure from kids’ friends that can make it difficult for teens to find out what’s right for them in comparison to their peers. Which is why it’s important to have conversations about how your kids can take rumors and gossip about people’s dating lives with the proverbial grain of salt – your friends could be exaggerating about their dating experiences – and even when they’re not, it’s crucial to encourage your children to use critical thinking skills and to know, “just because that might be right for them, doesn’t mean that would work for me.”
Especially with social media, before your teen starts to become interested in romantic and dating relationships, it will be helpful to discuss the definitions of sexting and harassment. Harassment can look like your kid noticing that they’re being consistently hounded with repeat calls and text messages/images from their boyfriend/girlfriend. We know, one of those times when the “talk bubble” doesn’t stop for hours or even long into the night. This is a sign that their boyfriend/girlfriend could be pressuring them for constant reassurance or engaging in controlling behaviors. There are many different definitions for sexting as well, and in today’s world it’s not a question of if your kid will be exposed, it’s a matter of when. Helping them understand that they will be exposed to sexting pressure at some point in their lives opens the conversation for ways to recognize red flags in dating relationships such as controlling behaviors, coercion, or emotional manipulation.
Red Flag on the Field! – One of the tell-tale signs of unhealthy relationships is when control has a strong presence in the dynamic between a couple. As your children grow into young adulthood, encouraging critical thinking skills when navigating the dating world is helpful for them to recognize markers for healthy and unhealthy relationships. Recognizing controlling behaviors in relationships can look like encouraging your teen to pay attention for signs their partner is monopolizing their time by attempting to discourage time spent with friends and family or making inappropriate demands in the relationship such as sexting. This can look like helping your kid to recognize when their lives are out of balance – if time with family, friends, grades, or chores are being sacrificed to spend more time with their partner this is a warning sign.
Teenage Dating Warning Signs
Examples of emotional manipulation to ignore a partner’s boundaries can be…
“I know you said you need to study but this is really important to me! I guess you mean more to me than I do to you…”
“She’ll have other birthdays! I really wanted you to come hang out with me – if [friend] makes a big deal out of it, they’re not a real friend!”
“If you really love me/if you really care about me then you’ll…”
All of these examples demonstrate a form of control and lack of respect for a partner’s personal boundaries – emphasizing with the old and wise adage: you can have respect without love, but you can’t have love without respect!
Temporary Feelings vs. Long-run Consequences – When approaching discussions about your adolescent’s relationships, it’s important to acknowledge the newness of their feelings and normalize the strength of those feelings! Thinking back to our first kisses, first dates, first time falling in love – many of us are overwhelmed by either negative, positive, or a mix of those feelings with a touch of nostalgia. Drawing on these past experiences and sharing within what’s age appropriate, can go a long way in helping to understand the experience for your kid who is living these feelings now! When there is room for empathy and compassion, the path is laid for parents to teach their children about distinguishing between temporary feelings vs. long-term consequences.
The Breakups. – Part of the teenage years is about learning to cope with the fallouts and feelings that come from breakups – dividing friend groups, potential harassment, and the effects on mental health are important to be aware of as you help build your kids’ resilience. Teenage relationships can be brief in nature, with breakups seeming like an inevitable conclusion – while parents know this due to their own experiences, you want to remain a safe place for your kids to vent out their feelings while providing guidance after you’ve given them emotional reassurance. Putting all expectations aside and just being with your children through their emotions, meeting them where they are, will show your teen that they have you and the family’s support no matter what happens with dating in their dating life.