A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Teen dating advice: Create a healthy relationship

When your child is old enough to start dating, it might feel tricky to know your role as a parent. Should you mind your own business? Enforce certain rules? Here is some teen dating advice for parents.

advice for teen dating holding hands

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

Teens often value privacy, which can make talking about their dating lives uncomfortable. However, the potential for embarrassment shouldn’t prevent parents from sharing advice to keep a happy and healthy relationship.

“The thought of our child(ren) dating may stir up a lot of emotions. Talking about these feelings with your kid(s) sooner than later can have lasting positive impacts,” said Dr. Kelsie-Marie Offenwanger, child and adolescent psychologist with Marshfield Children’s.

Open communication early

Dating will be less stressful (and scary) if teens and parents are comfortable talking to each other, said Dr. Offenwanger.

Talk to your kids about friendships, relationships and feelings when they’re young so it comes naturally when you’re trying to give teen dating advice. 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.

“Your teen has likely heard a lot of information through the rumor mill, and it is our job as parents to provide factual information to keep them safe. Other parents, close friends or your child’s provider can be a great resource,” said Dr. Offenwanger.

Is my teen ready to date?

There’s no right age to start dating.

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

“As a parent, it’s important to understand what your child means when they say they are ‘dating’ someone. This can gauge their emotional maturity and bridge the gap to talk about topics such as sexual health, consent and communication in relationships,” said Dr. Offenwanger.

Encourage your children to pursue interests and goals without judgment. Teens who are confident and comfortable with themselves tend to make better decisions in dating relationships.

Set dating rules

Another piece of advice is to collaboratively establish rules before your teen starts dating.

  • Age limits: There’s a big difference in maturity levels in younger teens versus older teens. Set rules about the acceptable dating age range.
  • Know where your child is: Ask where your child is going and with whom, if they are going out with a group or going out alone.
  • House rules: Does an adult need to be home if teens are there? Should doors remain open?
  • Curfew: When do you expect your child to be home? Keep communication open if plans change while your teen is out.

“Collaboration is key,” said Dr. Offenwanger. “Ask your teen what they think the rules and expectations should be. Discuss how you respect their privacy and want to work together by slowly increasing their level of responsibility.”

Signs of teen dating violence or abuse

Teen dating violence can happen in person or electronically including repeated texting or posting sexual pictures of a partner online without their permission.

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, extracurricular activities and interests
  • Spending all spare time with the significant other or communicating electronically

“Friendship, trust and respect are key ingredients for a healthy relationship. No one should feel like they’re not good enough, especially from their partner,” said Dr. Offenwanger.

When adolescents start to explore dating, romance, and sex, a troubling number fall victim to violence. In the United States, up to 19% of teens experience sexual or physical dating violence, about half face stalking or harassment, and as many as 65% report being psychologically abused.1

Keep an eye out for other red flags, which may signal something problematic is going on due to their relationship. This includes if they are drastically changing their routine, their clothes or style and their friend group or who they spend their free time with.

For teen dating advice, talk to a Marshfield Children’s provider.

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