Thinking Clearly About Parenting,Teenagers, & Dating

It is great when your kids are little, they have their friends,  they play with their friends, they come home. Life is so simple. When they are really young they have friends who are boys and girls and the difference barely matters. As they get a bit older they start to hang out with the peers of the same sex, which by in large is still a worry free time for parents.

If only life could stay that way!

Some where along the line a majority of young people will start to take an interest in a particular member of the opposite sex. Most of us have been there, so we should understand. But for some reason as adults dating always seems more complicated when it involves our kids. Sure it does make their life, and possibly yours, a bit more dramatic, but finding a romantic partner is a normal part of life that should be embraced not avoided.

This post hopes to outline some basic thoughts on embracing your teenagers quest for true love.

Teenagers & The Opposite Sex

First thing to understand is how and when an interest in the opposite sex develops.

In late elementary or primary school girls might spend on average about 1 hour a week in the presence of a boy. Guys are still not really that interested.

In junior high things start to heat up, at least in their thought world. Year 7 & 8 students are likely to spend up to 6-8 hours a week thinking about a particular member of the opposite sex, but still will not spend that much time with them, usually less than 2 hours a week. So although their hormones are generating an interest in the opposite sex the opportunity or ability to act on those thoughts and develop one on one relationships still has someway to go.

However by the end of high school a teenager has usually learnt how to go about spending time with opposite sex. Often by the time a teen reaches the last year of high school they will be spending up to 10 hours a week with a member of the opposite sex and 7-8 hours thinking about a member of the opposite sex. The figures are usually a bit lower for males on average.

The information demonstrates when things happen for teenagers in relation to dating, and more importantly should be a prompt for parents as to when they need to have certain conversations with their children about relationships with the opposite sex.

Important Differences

The time frames above are based on averages (Pre- Facebook averages).  All kids are different and will develop at different rates. There is no real right or wrong, just different rates.

Research however has shown that girls whose bodies develop more quickly will often face increased attention from males, usually older, at a younger age. Some young girls may not be emotionally ready to deal with such pressures. For parents of early developing girls conversations about dating and boys will need to happen earlier.

Similarly boys who mature later often may not develop an interest in girls until later, or may lack confidence around girls because they are smaller than the other guys. Parents need to be sensitive to this, not responding by placing extra pressure or becoming unduly worried.  It is still important to talk to teenage boys about how to treat women and sexual values even if they don’t have a girlfriend.

It is also good to remember that teens grow up and internalise certain ideas and values about love and relationships. These ideas, or scripts, often determine how a teenager will think about romance, love, and sex. In our western society girls will often associate sex with being in love and having a boyfriend will become central to their social standing. For boys sex often has less to do with love and more to do with proving oneself as a man. Again such differences are not universal, but need to be kept in mind when talking to different genders about dating.

It Is All New

It is natural for teenagers to be interested in a finding a romantic partner, but that does not mean that they naturally know how to go about finding and forming a romantic relationship.

Parents can play a significant role in helping their teen to develop an understanding of what it means to be in a romantic relationship. In fact it is during this period of a teen’s life that parents can reinforce values and behaviours that will help a teen shape how they treat themselves and the opposite sex.

Parents are often hesitant to intrude or offer dating advice to their teens, often because they feel nervous or awkward.  However when parents can overcome their own anxieties and raise the issues of dating in a relaxed manner it can add a whole new dimension to your relationship with your teenager. You might be surprised at just how grateful your teen is that when you bring up the issues and how many questions they have.  Remember the nerves and anxiety they feel about going on their first date is probably a lot greater than your anxiety talking to them about it.

Providing Guidance

Parents will also need to establish clear boundaries and expectations with their child about when and how they can spend time alone with the opposite sex. Some parents set up strict rules about not allowing their kids to have a boyfriend or girlfriend before a certain age. This approach can just lead to teenagers being secretive and parents being sidelined from part of their child’s life. A more constructive way forward is to start conversations early and as your teen starts to show an interest then negotiate about what is reasonable way forward.

Encouraging your teen to make the most of social occasions such as school functions, youth groups, or inviting partners to family activities are all low risk easy ways for teens to explore spending time with their new love. Of course the time will come when they want to take their partner out to dinner or see a movie. Be sensitive and encouraging while also negotiating time frames and curfews.

Digital Relationships

One of the biggest changes to teenage relationships that has occurred since we were teenagers is the advent of the internet, social networking, and mobile phones. Advice about dating and relationships now needs to include advice about how to look after themselves and their relationship in the online environment. In previous posts ( Keeping Generation Z Safe OnlineTeenagers & Sexting: What is It & What to do About It) about parenting teens in a digital world. Parents need to be proactive in talking to teens about what is appropriate to share online or send via mobile phone, and what it means to be a good digital citizen.

A recent study by Seventeen magazine found that Facebook and social media now play a prominent part in a teen’s dating life.  As teens this was not an issue we had to negotiate so this would mean as parents we need to get informed in order to be able to understand and communicate helpfully with our teens.

Privacy Matters

As teens get older privacy becomes more important in lots of areas of life, romantic relationships are no exception.  It is important to talk to your teen about dating and sex, but then as they grow and start relationships it is also important to remember to back off and not expect to know everything.  Girls are often more inclined to talk about their relationships openly, and guys are often inclined to grunt and keep their lives very private.

For this reason have important conversations early rather than later. As long are your teen is living at home it is fair and reasonable to negotiate curfews and expectations about when they come and go, and when their partners can come and go.

But it is also important to continue to take an interest, let your teen know you are there if they do want to talk, and most importantly give your teen the chance to bring his love interest to the family home so you can get to know them.

Don’t Sabotage Their Social Life

As a parent setting limits and boundaries is different from sabotaging your teens social life. As a parent do all you can to avoid making your teenager choose between their friends or partner and you – you might not like who wins that battle. Some basics ways of minimising this risk is:

  • Start honest conversations early
  • Respect your teens privacy
  • Get to know their partner
  • Negotiate boundaries as teen grows
  • Don’t make arbitrary rules about relationships
  • Do not put their partner down in general conversation
  • Use consequences as discipline that do not exact a huge social cost

These may not always be easy, or possible, but should be the starting place for parenting teens through the world of relationships.

I would love to know what others think or have found useful when parenting teens who are starting to date. Please leave your comments below.

Image by reebs*

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  • confusedmom

    what happens when a girlfriend or boyfriend is disrespectful to parents, example posting comments on facebook or telling lies to create drama.

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