A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Surviving teen dating: Tips for parents

Young couple holding hands

Prepare your teens for healthy dating relationships by opening communication and building their confidence.

“My daughter won’t date until she’s 30.”

“No one is good enough to date my son.”

Have you heard parents say things like this or said them yourself?

Parents may not want to think about their child’s first girlfriend or boyfriend, but preparing early will help when teens start dating, said Dr. James Meyer, an adolescent medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic.

Open communication early

Dating will be less stressful if teens and parents are comfortable talking to each other, Meyer said.

Talk to your kids about friendships, relationships and feelings when they’re young so it comes naturally when they’re older. Discuss examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships you see in the media.

Talk about sexuality, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy prevention. Remind teens their friends’ dating and sex advice isn’t always right. Parents and health care providers are better resources.

Is my teen ready to date?

Consider your teen’s history of following rules and acting responsibly when deciding if he’s ready to date.

“When teens step into dating relationships at a young age, their bodies are ahead of their brains,” Meyer said. “They think in the here-and-now rather than planning for the future. They don’t see their behavior as leading to a legal issue, an STI or a pregnancy.”

Teens with a history of impulsive behavior, anxiety and low self-esteem are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and get involved in unhealthy relationships. They may need more supervision when they start dating.

Encourage your children to pursue interests and goals. Teens who are confident and comfortable with themselves tend to make better decisions in dating relationships.

Set dating rules

Establish rules before your teen starts dating.

Know where your child is going and with whom, whether the date is in a group or one-on-one.

Let younger teens experience dating safely in groups. Parents often use 16 as the age they allow teens to go on one-on-one dates, but let your child’s maturity be your guide.

Signs of dating danger

Watch for physically and emotionally controlling behavior and other signs of an unhealthy relationship.

  • Bruises or scratches
  • Threats of physical violence
  • Criticism
  • Disrespect
  • Jealousy
  • Manipulation
  • Partner threatens self-harm if they break up
  • Changes in mood, sleep patterns, diet, physical activity or grades
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Withdrawal from extracurricular activities and interests
  • Spending all spare time with the significant other or communicating electronically

“In a healthy relationship you try to make each other shine rather than ask your partner to give up part of themselves to be with you,” Meyer said.

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