A few years ago, one of my daughter’s homework assignments included having a conversation with her parents—about dating. While the phrase “living on a remote island until you’re 28” may have jokingly been brought up, the reality is many tweens and teens are going to date and we can’t shirk our parental duty to watch over, guide, and influence them—even as we bemoan the fact that they are growing up.
With school starting, now is a good time to have the conversation so boundaries are set and everyone is on the same page.
Ask, “What do you think is reasonable?”
Don’t lead off with a list of rules right away. I had (admittedly) been prepared to be defensive. Instead, in our conversation, our daughter told us she wasn’t going to date her freshman year of high school. Inside I may have rejoiced, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” while maintaining an outwardly calm demeanor that said, “Oh, that seems reasonable.”
Really, though, my husband and I couldn’t claim any credit for that. Her friends—who were a year older (and wiser)—told her how awkward it was and advised against it.
I’m not counting on each child suggesting that, but listening to him or her first will create a more open discussion.
Then, set your boundaries.
Dating abuse is real, with estimates that each year 1.5 million students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner. So even though no kid thinks anything bad will happen to him or her, place reasonable limits on the relationship, depending on ages. That may include establishing that younger kids need to go out in groups. Discuss the balance between friends and dating because the temptation is to focus on this new relationship to the exclusion of friends. (That’s not healthy.) Make sure you have a way to monitor their phones or devices. Establish a curfew. Have them tell you their plans, with the expectation that you can call or text to make sure they told the truth. Talk about God’s ideals for how men and women treat each other.
Get to know the person your son or daughter is dating.
Consider meeting the boy or girl before they go out on a date. Once they are (casually or seriously) dating, include them in your family’s plans, whether that is having them over for dinner or game night. Take them to a baseball game or stop for ice cream as you’re driving them home.
Get to know the other parents.
Some friends of mine set a brilliant example. When their son started dating, they met with the girlfriend’s parents to establish mutually agreed upon boundaries. They exchanged cell phone numbers so they could be in close contact with each other. One boundary they set: the teens are not allowed to be alone at either house. So when my friends are gone and their son is home alone, they text the other set of parents, letting them know. And the other parents do the same.
Be there for the breakup.
Honestly, the majority of teenage relationships aren’t going to last. Whether it’s a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, their young hearts will break. Hug them; love them; pray with them. The teen years are hard enough, and they really need your patience and understanding.
What are the dating guidelines you set for your children? I’d love to hear them! Leave a note in the comments and share your wisdom!
Linda Buxa is a writer, Bible study leader, and retreat speaker. With homecoming (or “hoco” as the kids call it) rapidly approaching, she thinks this might be a good time to talk about the “ask.”