Summer means increased opportunities for teen dating and parental worrying. And while we all realize that it’s natural for teenagers to be attracted to one another and that dating is the socially-accepted outcome of such attraction, most parents agonize over the whole dating experience and all the things that can go wrong.
There’s no magic way to make such parental worrying disappear, but there are steps you can take to make teen dating a better experience for you and your child.
• Talk to your child about dating. The junior high years, or even earlier, are not too soon to broach the subject, even though actual dating may be a few years off.
• Develop basic dating rules and expectations. Talk about the appropriate age for couple or group dates. Discuss curfews and your expectations regarding driving, behavior and appropriate destinations. As the parent, you should take the lead, but include your child in the discussion and get his or her agreement that what you’re proposing makes sense for both of you.
• Discuss sex and morality. Honestly share your own moral views and talk about AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and the emotional issues related to sex. If you find such discussions difficult, try enlisting a counselor, physician or member of the clergy to help.
• Prepare for emergencies. Yes, they are going to happen. Does your child have a cell phone? Enough money to be able to take a cab home in case of an emergency? A backup person to call if you or your spouse isn’t available? Talk about handling problem situations like an auto accident, a drunk or abusive date, or other potential dating disasters.
• Make it clear you’re there for your teen. You don’t want a teen in trouble too scared to call you. Your child should know that when there’s a problem, you’re ready to come to the rescue, wherever and whenever, with no questions asked.
• Pay attention. Most teens won’t share dating details, but will give clues when things aren’t right. Look and listen for problems, from drinking to drugs to inappropriate relationships. Don’t be paranoid, but respect your intuition. Ask questions and act swiftly when you sense something is wrong.
Yes, teen dating is a challenge for any teen, and it’s even harder on the parents, but build an honest, open, nonjudgmental relationship with your teen and it becomes easier.
Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to [email protected] or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.