How to Parent When your Teen Starts Dating

09/27/2017 03:53 pm ET

By the time our kids are teens, we hope we have instilled good judgment, critical thinking and healthy boundaries, but when your teen starts dating, you might be surprised. Thank back for a second on your own first romance. Was it a healthy relationship,or just animal attraction? Was it a positive experience or one of those “life lessons” that broke your heart?

The bright horizon of possibility that appears before us as adolescents can be blinding. It can sweep your teen off his or her feet and eclipse everything else including other friendships, schoolwork, sports or any other favorite activity.

Throw in the substantial worry that most parents feel around the prospect of sexual activity, risk-taking and partying, and you have many, many sleepless nights ahead of you. It can lead to all kinds of irrational behavior on our part as parents, becoming aggressive and invasive about our teens’ privacy, hyper-vigilant about their activities and friends, and overreact to what amounts to basic growing pains.

This time is already fraught with hormones and big questions about self, not to mention enormous social and academic pressure. Whether it’s cultural or innate, teens rebel, and we cannot help but try and save them from making life-changing mistakes.

So how do we help them through the very new journey of dating, relationships and intimacy? Here are a few ideas to throw around in your head as your baby reaches that threshold.

Educate them on the facts when it comes to sex. We cannot rely on the schools to do all the necessary work when it comes to sexual health. This is especially true for girls, because they risk pregnancy. Starting before they reach this stage is optimal, and one conversation about the “birds and the bees” isn’t enough. They will have ongoing questions and need to feel like you are receptive.

Explain why the rules are the way they are. For example you could say to your daughter: you only get to go out in groups, but if you don’t explain why, then what reason does she have to stick to it?

Insist on meeting friends and first dates. But be cool, treat those friends and dates with adult respect and don’t go overboard with probing questions.

Tell your teen that your trust them. If your son starts seeing a girl or expresses interest, and you have laid the groundwork for good boundaries and manners, you need to show him that you also trust him to be responsible. Boys also need to understand that girls can get aggressive and display bad boundaries, so it’s important that they know how to say “no.”

Talk to teens about risks associated with online dating. The prospect of getting scammed, stalked or cat-fished online is remarkably high, yet parents are blissfully ignorant of the risk. Educate yourself and your teen so that they know what to look for when connecting online.

Be clear about the relationship between parties, drinking and consent. We are failing on a social level as a culture to highlight the dangerous interconnection between drinking and sexual assault. Teens need full awareness that alcohol inhibits decision-making, and that someone who has passed out has not consented to sex. It’s not just that we want our teens to avoid these behaviors, we want them to speak up and defend their friends against risk too.

Direct them to reliable sources if they won’t listen to you. According to one survey, most teens are getting their information about sex from the Internet and not their parents. There is a limit to what they are willing to absorb from you, so make sure they have good fact-based sources to draw on, like www.teenhealthfx.comRemember that teens are just following very natural inclinations and so must make every effort to be kind, available but also give them the space they need to grow. Their stumbles, heartbreaks and successes will set them up for loving partnership in the future.

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