Is My Teen Ready To Date?
A psychologist offers advice on when your child is ready to go out
For parents faced with the tough decision of when to let their teen start dating, transforming this highly emotional time into a teachable moment can make all the difference.
When it comes to navigating new romantic relationships, many teens feel they have all the answers. Taking time early on to talk openly with your tween about your family’s values, setting boundaries, risky behaviors and establishing healthy relationships can serve as a vital building block for a strong emotional foundation as he or she matures.
“Every child matures at a different rate. However, realistically, high school should be the earliest that dating should be considered,” said Joy Crabtree, PsyD, a licensed psychologist at Cook Children’s. “Rather than using a specific age or grade to determine if your child is ready to date, focus more on overall maturity level, ability to take responsibility and overall social skills. Parents need to realize that, like it or not, their children are going to mature and grow up. Try not to over-focus on preventing them from branching out and separating, but help them move through the stages of life with balance, perspective and respect for their parents’ rules.”
Ready or Not
So how are parents to know if their teen is ready to take that first step into the world of dating and broken hearts? Consider this:
Maturity - Although teens may look and be old enough to date, they may not have the mental and emotional maturity to do so. Consider their reactions to emotional situations and which stage they are at in their pubescent development. If your teens appear to be generally naïve or are emotionally overactive or sensitive, it is likely best if dating is delayed until they are older.
Sense of Responsibility - Teens who are safe drivers, actively involved in sports or hobbies, engaged in family and social activities, and doing well academically are generally responsible enough to date without a chaperone.
Crabtree also suggests considering whether or not your children are able to strike a healthy balance between academics and social activities and if they are responsible in completing required chores and able to meet deadlines or curfews.
Having the “sex talk” with your teen should not be an uncomfortable or awkward time, but rather a chance to begin an ongoing dialogue about responsibility and choices in years to come.
“Discussions about body changes and sex should start occurring by the late elementary years. Then, as children enter middle school and certainly high school, there should be ongoing discussions at an age-appropriate level about various situations or sexual pressures they might face and how to set limits or boundaries,” said Crabtree said. “Over time, children will become more comfortable with such discussions with their parents. If a parent has a specific suspicion about sexual activity, they should ask their teen. However, they should take care to make sure questions come from a position of caring and concern, rather than accusation.”