Question: Help! My 15-year-old daughter just asked for permission to go on her first date, and the idea scares me to death. What should I do?
Donalyn: While this is always a scary situation for a parent, it’s important to recognize that it signals a new step in the process of letting go of our child as they take steps towards autonomy. We can’t transfer responsibility all at once, but we have to continue to release the reins and trust our teen more over time. Prior to facing this situation, we as parents need to have taken the time to decide our family’s dating guidelines: i.e. at what age they are allowed to date, when it can be single dating vs. group dating, what curfews to impose, and those kinds of things. We should do this several years before the situation arises, and communicate those principles clearly to our children years before they are ready to date.
Dave: Many parents fail to see the significance of thinking through what they really want for their kids in the area of dating. Because of that, they end up having to make decisions by default under pressure. As Donalyn said, it’s important to set family relational guidelines early. Agree on a plan of graduated freedom in their dating that slowly moves from going out in groups, to foursomes, and finally to dating as a couple. Some other specifics we have used with our teens is that they have to clearly communicate what they’re going to do and let us know if the plans change by calling during the evening. Furthermore, any plans must get the OK from us before they are confirmed. We have a right to know where they are at all times. Help your teen understand that keeping you informed is one of the best ways they can build trust and stay safe.
Donalyn: It’s also important for parents to talk through the significance of the different aspects of dating with their teen. You need to talk through the relational significance of holding hands, and what a kiss means, and to work to keep those things special. You should discuss various expectations in relationships, the sexual pressures they will face, and help your teenager develop standards that they will know how to respect.
Dave: Donalyn and I developed a set of family relational guidelines, put it all on paper, discussed with our teens what we believed and why, and also clarified some of the rules with them. Some families might find our guidelines quite archaic, but just three weeks ago, a young man came and asked if he could date my daughter. You see, we require that our children ask any potential dates to meet their Dad and ask his permission to date them. This shows a lot of respect and also gives you a chance to talk to these young people personally. It’s fun to watch how nervous they are sometimes!
Keep in mind, finally, that your collision with your teenagers over dating guidelines, curfews and all, will lessen if your relationship is strong before you have to start saying “no” during the teen years. It’s imperative to have a good relationship with your kids going into the teen years. So take the time to develop it now. And if you are in the middle of the teen years, work at understanding, listening, being flexible, and talking through the guidelines openly and patiently. Donalyn and I have really enjoyed our kids' teen years. You can too.
This article was written by: Dr. Dave CurriePhoto Credit: Allef Vinicius