Children growing old enough to start dating is arguably one of the things that parents dread most. Few parents can imagine their child diving into the trials and tribulations of the dating world. It is enough to make any parent squirm, regardless of the trust they may have for their child.
As difficult as the idea may be to digest, starting to date is a rite of passage for all teenagers. Dabbling in dating can help set the foundations for teens to build healthy relationships with partners, learn how to set boundaries, and develop a better sense of who they are. Supportive parents can be a keystone in helping their children learn these skills.
Of course, finding the right balance between too much and too little involvement is difficult. Being supportive can be especially difficult as teens are also often struggling to find the balance between asking for help and gaining independence. As you wade into the murky and sometimes turbulent waters of teen dating, here are some ways you can be a supportive parent.
Establish Open Lines of Communication
Keeping an open line of communication sounds easy on the surface — you just let your kids know that they can always talk to you. However, it can be a lot more difficult than that. Sometimes, talking about certain topics with your teen can be more arduous than others. Dating might be one of them. Ultimately, communication will flow when there is a solid foundation of trust in your relationship.
Building trust is not something that happens overnight. Rather, it is something you’ve worked for over the years by trusting your child with tasks or letting them stay overnight with friends. It involves providing positive feedback, striving to build your teen’s self-esteem, and setting clear expectations with rewards and consequences. As teens start dating, it is important to maintain this trust by creating a space where they can talk to you without judgment. After all, dating is messy — and we were all teenagers once.
Once your teen starts talking, the most important thing you can do is listen. Listen without judgment and without trying to pass on uninvited advice. Sometimes they are going to say things that make you want to panic, but take a deep breath and stay calm. Being overly emotional is likely to cause your teen to shut down and stop talking.
The dating world has changed a lot since you were a teenager. Technology alone has completely altered the way that many teens interact. For instance, many teens are finding love through dating apps, which may be totally alien to you. Do your research and be willing to talk and listen to your teen about the trials and tribulations of online dating.
Of course, whether your teen is meeting people through dating apps or traditional methods, it doesn’t change the values you expect them to uphold. Take the time to define what a healthy teen relationship looks like. Explain to your teen the different types of abuse in relationships and warning signs to watch out for. Help them identify things they are looking for in a relationship as well as the things they are looking to avoid.
Finally, as your teen starts dating, be clear with your boundaries and expectations. Set a curfew for your teen early on and clearly line out the consequences of breaking it. Likewise, lay out boundaries for any other concerns such as dating people with dangerous habits or who will be paying for dates. It could even be time to talk to your teen about getting a job to address the latter. Setting clear expectations early on can help build a relationship based on trust and avoid arguments later on.
Be Ready for the Breakup
Unfortunately, the vast majority of teen relationships are not going to last. Though in some instances it may be a relief for you, it is likely going to be emotionally challenging for your teen. Showing support and helping your teen through a breakup and heartbreak is just as essential as supporting them during the more positive aspects of dating.
While supporting your teen through their breakup, it is important to keep in mind that teen brains are still developing. This means that though they have a full range of emotions, they may not have the full ability to be rational about things. This is where you come in. Helping your teen overcome the heartbreak can be challenging and in some cases, it may be worthwhile to have them talk out their emotions with a supportive mental health professional who specializes in adolescent therapy.
Breakups are never fun, but they can also be a learning experience. As a supporting parent, you can work toward helping your teen see some of the lessons learned. For instance, perhaps they will learn some of the characteristics they are not interested in having in a partner. They also might learn how to better manage difficult or emotionally trying situations.
Realizing that you have teenagers of dating age can be a scary moment for most parents. However, showing support for your teen and trusting them to make good dating decisions can go a long way in helping them become happy, healthy adults. Creating an open line of communication early on, helping them set and enforce values, and supporting them through their breakups are great places to start.
About the Author
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and the search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.