Understanding the Dating Experience

The dating experience begins for most teenagers around the age of fourteen or fifteen. Nine out of ten sixteen year olds are going on dates at least once a week. By the time teenagers graduate from high school, almost all of them have had a serious relationship. As Dr. Laurence Steinberg says in his book You and Your Adolescent, “Dating is more than just fun; at this age, it’s almost a competitive sport, one in which adolescents test themselves and others, and one in which there are winners and losers.”

Establishing Rules for Dating

Of course, your teenager’s dating is a new experience for you too. You may find it hard to know what to do. Dr. Steinberg has suggested the following guidelines for your involvement.

  • Know who your adolescent is dating: Meet the people your teen dates, and try to get to know them. Ask her about the person, how the date went, and try to chat a little with her date. Be friendly but not intrusive.

  • Know where your adolescent is going and what will be done: Let your teenager know what places and activities are off-limits. Tell him when you expect him to be home. Take care of this before the date. You do not want to embarrass your teenager by “treating him like a child” in front of his date. 

  • Set guidelines for the frequency of dates: Help your teenager keep dating in perspective. She should understand that her schoolwork is first priority. Dating should also not replace other important activities like sports, hobbies, and spending time with friends and family. 

  • What if you dislike the person your adolescent is dating? According to Dr. Steinberg, “A number of studies have documented a Romeo-and-Juliet effect: The more parents oppose an adolescent romance, the more intense that relationship becomes.The best thing to do is to say nothing about the person unless you are asked. If you let nature run its course, the two are likely to drift apart; but if you back the adolescent into a corner, she may cling to the undesirable person as an act of self-assertion.”

  • The person your teenager is dating uses drugs, drinks, or drinks and drives: If this is the situation, forbid the relationship and explain why. Talk to your teenager about how serious a problem addiction is. It is not something your teen can effectively deal with at this time in his life. Explain that the person needs more help than what he can give.

  • Your adolescent is being verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually abused: If you see or overhear something that makes you suspect any type of abuse, be aggressive in trying to learn the truth. Do not hesitate to get professional help in any case of abuse.

It’s difficult to maintain the proper balance between interest and intrusion in your teenager’s life, but it's possible. By keeping the proper level of involvement in your teen’s dating experience, you will be able to help him have positive, healthy experiences that will prepare him to make wise decisions about romance later in life.