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Friday, October 19, 2007

Rites of Passage- Dating

The decision of when to allow children to begin dating can be a difficult one. A word about definitions is important; the word “dating”, is well, somewhat dated and likely your kids do not use that word the way most parents do. However because “dating” is a word parents understand, we will continue to use that word to mean any activity in which young men and young women begin to explore the meanings of courtship and relationship, and finding a potential mate.
Harvard sociologist, Martin Whyte argues that if producing stable marriages is the goal of dating, then dating, as conducted in America, is a failed method. However, most of us are parents not sociologists, and as such dating is the institution we have to work with. So let’s begin by covering the basics:
- Teens will want to date. Girls usually before boys, but as my daughter says, “Get your big-girl panties on”; you will need to step up to the parenting plate as both sexes want to date eventually.
- Dating is a learned behavior. You must talk with them; values, concerns, your own age appropriate lessons learned, are all valuable topics.
- Have discussions about “the rules” before dating time begins. I hope it goes without saying that trying to determine when your child should be home, as they walk out the door, is too late. But, neglecting to come to agreement with your co-parent is also a sure way to fail.
- Be a good role model. The more your children see you work on a healthy, functional relationship, the better the chance they will know how to engage in healthy, functioning relationships.
A few words on teen dating violence. Almost two-thirds of teens report they had been or knew someone that had been in an abusive relationship. This should be part of the dating conversation you have with your child. Tell them the warning signs of abusive relationships, some of which are: acting jealous and possessive, name calling and insulting, angers quickly, threatening the teen/family/pet or themselves, unwanted touching and alcohol or drug use.
Help your teen to feel comfortable reporting such behaviors to you by helping them realize you love them, will protect them, and they are not to blame. While not foolproof, prevention is the best cure, so help your teen to keep high self esteem and make communication open. Your receiving messages from your teen is at least as important as your transmitting. Ensure your teen has access to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 1-888-293-6118, the Idaho Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Project web site:, or call the Women's Center, Inc. at 664-9303 for advocacy, information and assistance.
While we only have one kid of four in the dating process, I offer our basic rules as a synthesis of professional advice and research on the topic, and fodder for parental discussion.
- No dating until sixteen. However two of our four have skipped at least one grade so that rule is a bit flexible.
- We meet all dates, boys and girls.
- All dates are subject to inspection. Inappropriate dress, haircut standards, or lack of respect for us or our teen means the date will be rescheduled after deficiencies are corrected.
- We as parents reserve the right to amend these rules and curfews as appropriate based on behavior, grades, maturity, and our comfort level with the person our child has chosen to date.
Learning to negotiate the give and take of relationships, while sweetened by the flush of romance is heady stuff indeed and something neither parents nor teens should treat lightly, but like other potentially dangerous teenage behaviors such as driving, is a special time and a life-long skill that can be rewarding on many levels.

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