As your teen enters high school, gets a driver’s license and passes other teenage milestones, you might ask yourself: When is the right time to allow my child to date? Parents often worry about their child’s first relationship or their child entering the world of dating, but romantic teen relationships occur. An expert shares advice to help prepare you and your child for dating and forming healthy relationships.
Is my teen ready for dating?
May Lau, M.D., M.P.H, adolescent medicine physician at Children’s Health℠ and practicing physician at UT Southwestern, says that while the consensus is teens can begin dating at 16 years old, it can vary a lot from teen to teen.
“It really depends on the maturity level of the teen,” says Dr. Lau. “It also depends on what their friends are doing or what is done within their family. In their family, culture or religion, they may not start dating until a much later age. All these factors influence whether an adolescent can date.”
Dr. Lau says today’s teens often begin dating at a later age than teens in years past due to academic pressures or other factors. Though you may think your child is old enough or emotionally ready to date, he or she may actually not be ready to take on the responsibilities of being in a relationship.
How can I help my teen have a healthy relationship?
Even before a teen starts dating, parents should have conversations about what behavior is appropriate on a date based on the teen’s culture, religion and family values.
“Having a great relationship and open dialogue about behavior is very important,” says Dr. Lau. “It doesn’t have to be an extensive conversation, but you should build on those conversations and use teachable moments to build trust.”
During conversations, you may want to cover topics such as:
- Appropriate dating behaviors
- How to handle disagreements with partners
- How to respect another person’s boundaries
- How to communicate your feelings and needs clearly
- What physical behavior is appropriate and healthy – and why
How can I talk to my child about healthy relationships?
Dr. Lau suggests parents use media, like a news story or movie, as a jumping off point for a discussion. For instance, if your child watches a TV show that features a relationship, you can use that show to discuss what behavior is right or wrong in a relationship and why.
Dr. Lau says to bring the story up casually, asking your teen what they think about it as a way to start the discussion.
“Having discussions in the car is helpful because you aren’t looking at each other,” suggests Dr. Lau. “It’s private, but you can have these conversations without being in an intense situation.”
The biggest mistake you may make as a parent is to not discuss relationships with your teen. If you don’t want your teen to date, you should have a conversation with him or her about why he or she can’t become involved in a relationship yet.
“We are trying to teach adolescents to become independent thinkers, but they still need guidance,” says Dr. Lau. “If you have a blanket statement against relationships, they may not understand and may rebel.”
How do I know if my child is in an unhealthy relationship?
Parents can watch out for signs of an unhealthy relationship in their teen. Parents should talk with teens about their relationships if they:
- Withdraw from activities with family or friends
- Stop participating in hobbies or activities they enjoy
- Seem more anxious or irritable
- Have to ask permission from their significant other to do something
- Constantly check in with their significant other
- Apologize frequently to their significant other
If you are worried your teen is in an unhealthy relationship, ask him or her if they are comfortable talking with you about the relationship and sharing with you how things are going. If your teen doesn’t want to talk to you about the relationship, he or she may be willing to talk to their pediatrician or an adolescent medicine physician that specializes in teen health.
What if my teen is not ready to date?
Dr. Lau says many adolescents and teens are not comfortable with one-on-one dating and may be more comfortable in a group dating situation where multiple teens, both in and outside of couples, get together to go out.
“Group dating is a way to ease into dating and gives kids an opportunity out of school to just hang out without any awkwardness of one-on-one dating,” says Dr. Lau.
If teens say they’re not ready, continue to have an open conversation with them about relationships. As they become more mature and confident in themselves, they will let you know when they are ready to start dating.
Find out how Children’s Health adolescent medicine experts can help your teen stay healthy as they grow and develop into young adults.
Stay current on the health and wellness information that makes a difference to you and your family. Sign up for the Children’s Health newsletter and have more expert tips and insights sent directly to your inbox.