Help! My Teenager's Dating!
Kissing Frogs isn't a Prerequisite to Finding the Prince
As a mom of three teenagers, dating is one of the extra curricular activities of my kids. I come from a mindset that I would like them to do a bit of dating under my watch before they go off to college and don't have a "set age" for when dating can officially begin. I don't agree that it is just a distraction (although it can be) but as an important part of learning social skills and courtesies that are just as practical as academic and athletic skills that will carry them into adulthood.
Your mind can easily spin into the worst case scenerios and we have all seen or experienced the "unwanted" boyfriend character who resembles a hyena stalking their prey. The moment I brought my children home from the hospital as babies, my parental mode can be on overload with defending my child from all the evils in the world. Not a practical or possible endeavor. The same goes for dating. There are many misteps to be had, some with lifelong consequences. How are you supposed to help your teen navigate?
Here's where I make some clarifications as to what I am discussing. This is traditional boy dating girl, with the eventual intent to be marriage. I am conservative and do believe in abstinence and make no apologies about our standard.
I begin talking to my kids long before they actually begin dating. I listen during the birthday party sleep-overs with girlfriends. Who do they think is cute at school? Who is the celebrity teen heart throb? What fashions are the girls choosing, and for what reason? As a parent, I feel it is very important to build a foundation of trust. That you are a safe person to talk to. There won't be judgement, ridicule or dramatics. The generation gap is based on the two individuals unaware of the other's level of relatablility. In my mother's generation, kids "went steady" and boys gave their girlfriends "pins" of their fraternity or club to show their "commitment." I can remember wearing my boyfriend's class ring around my neck on a chain. Nowadays, the kids change the status of their relationship on their social media profile.
I said the foundation you build with your child needs to be one of trust. My kids (and even their friends) know that they can vent to me and I will initially listen. I won't dismiss their feelings as "puppy love" or "not real." I try not to interject a judgement like "well, that was stupid." I determine to wear my "poker face" and not really let on how I am really feeling when I am asked a question to make my teen feel comfortable in expressing honestly. This may take practice!
Together, my kids and I have set up a list of qualities they want in a future mate. There are two categories; non-negotiables and preferences. These lists originate back when the kids are in middle school, long before real dating begins. We review and tweak them as the kids get older. "Marrying a rock star" seemed important to my daughter at eleven and she was attending a Justin Beiber concert, not so much now that she is in high school. Because I have established that I am a safe sounding board, I am also free to interject my opinion for them to muddle over. They also know some of my pre-requisites as a parent such as curfews and meeting who they will be dating. The kids are not allowed to be in my house if an adult is not there, and any time spent in the bedroom is with the door open and lights on.
After a list of specific qualities, I ask my kids what they want their family life to look like when they are an adult. Are you career oriented? Do you want kids, how many? How do you avoid divorce? Let me pause here and give you some leeway as a parent. You may be a single parent or never been married and you actions do speak to your children. I commend you for tackling the challenging job alone. Like Lorelai on the Gilmore girls, we adults are always learning and making mistakes so how can be confidently lead our kids in a different direction that our own? We are talking about what you dream for you child. Wouldn't you want them to be happily married with kids? How is that achieved?
I believe that an essential part of dating is learning the roles of a partnership as in marriage. The give and taking. The serving someone else. Being gracious. Forgiving. Learning balance. As the adult, the teen is looking to you to help set boundaries in a world they have no experience in. The feelings of attraction and love can be all encompassing. Assist them in keeping their boyfriend/girlfriend as a part of their world not the entire world. Keep them active in sports, academics and clubs. Another important part of dating is to realize that you date the family, not just the person. How that individual interacts with members of their immediate family will speak as to how they will behave in a marriage. Are they patient with younger siblings? Are they respectful to their moms? Do the obey the standards of their parents? We aren't looking for perfection here -- just a teachable heart.
First, pour love, acceptance and praise into your child so they grown confident in who they are, quirks and all. This will help them during the inevitable times when their affections are not returned. What if your daughter isn't asked to the homecoming dance? What if the girl your son asked said no? How do they handle the rejection? Graciously. It is important that the kids know they are not obligated to date anyone. But girls need to recognize how courageous it is for the boys to ask them out. They deserve respect when saying no. Boys need to realize that the girls have "no" as an option. If the kids can keep their dignity in these first few moments of the dating scene, they will get a reputation of courtesy and that is an attractive trait. And you cry with them. Let's face it, being rejected hurts. Let them feel it and encourage them not to throw in the towel. I play Aaron Neville's song "Everybody plays the Fool" song and share tales of my own high school woe. ". . . and now you cry but when you do, next time around someone cries for you."
What happens on a date? Nowadays, it isn't always the boy who is expected to shell out the cash to go to a movie or sporting event. Get creative. How about a picnic in the park? Walking the family dog? Activity like playing frisbee, swimming or soccer? I like to invite the "significant others" to our house as often as possible and get to know them myself. I want to see how they treat me and our family or are they anxious to sweep my child away? I will respect their desire to want to be alone every once in a while, but they also need to be willing to hang out with the family. Movie night at home with popcorn or playing a board game with the siblings! My kids start out with group activities -- all meeting up at the school's football game, or I host a trip to the local pizza parlor. There is a local place that offers swing dancing on Fridays that has been an affordable stop for the teens. When they have known each other for awhile and I have met them, then I allow the two to venture out alone.
As I said before, I do believe in abstinence and think it is ridiculous that this is no longer a believable option. I think it provides stability to the relationship when there is no physical pressure that they are too young to deal with. The emotional ties are strong enough at this age. There are studies shown that there is a chemical called oxytocin that is released when two people have sex. According to the University of San Francisco, it is associated with the "ability to maintain relationships." It is also released when mothers give birth to their children or nurse them to properly bond them together emotionally. It is said that our bodies contain a finite amount of the chemical. When teenagers engage in casual sex, they are depleting this chemical that is to be reserved for the relationships that are to last.
Finally, be honest with your child when they bring home a less than perfect date. You may not like them, but often a teen's natural reaction to a parent saying "no" is to do the opposite! Review the list of what they look for in a mate and see how their current dating partner matches up. Encourage your child to state why they are dating them and see if you two can reason on some sort of agreement. The relationship that is within your control is that with you and your child. Keeping the door open to conversation is vital until the teens mature. I get to know the kids independently from my children. I have a conversation and get to know them one on one so they are not in that trap of trying to impress and let their guard down a little more. I take the opportunity to be frank with them about my standard for dating my child.
Dating can be a fun chapter in your child's life and if handled appropriately, can be a great season full of memories that you share with them. They will grow to adulthood gleaning from the healthy dating experiences they had with you in their corner giving sound adult advice. It is not a perfect formula, but totally worth engaging in the conversations. The harvest might someday be being a mother-in-law that goes against the infamous type and morph from parent into an adult friend.
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