Many teens enter the dating scene long before they are old enough and adequately prepared. Here are a few ideas to help prepare your kids for more responsible dating.
1. Set an appropriate dating age
The sooner you do this the better. Your kids need to grow up knowing what that expected age is, so it isn't sprung on them as hormones start raging. There is reliable evidence that kids are not ready for the experiences of dating until age 16, as they are likely not mature enough to make wise dating decisions at younger ages.
Ron Eagar, a pediatrician at Denver Health Medical Center claims, "The magic number is 16. There's an enormous difference between a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old and a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old in terms of life experience." Set this boundary in a kind way, and stick to it. Don't be upset when they want to date earlier. Be prepared to kindly and firmly say, "I understand; still you won't be dating until you're 16." Do a little research and help them understand why this matters.
2. Respect their crushes
It's normal for your teen or preteen to have a crush on someone long before he or she begins dating. Don't promote it if they aren't experiencing it yet; just be accepting that these are normal and healthy feelings. If you become aware of it, encourage them to talk to you about it. Never make fun of what your child is feeling.
Dr. George Comerci said, "Parents should never minimize or ridicule a first love. It is a very important relationship to teenagers, and it's important for another reason, in that it is their first intimate relationship with someone outside their family."
In these cases, an intimate relationship can be as innocent as sending puppy love notes back and forth at school without ever having any physical contact. These notes or texts can be as simple as "I like you."
Before this ever happens with your child, take the time to teach him or her what is appropriate in a note or a text. Assure them that it's OK to feel attracted to someone; but saying intimate things to someone, or meeting privately to engage in physical contact is not appropriate.
Help them know how to be friends and how to be kind without promoting a deeper relationship. Developing friendships is important before dating ever begins. Explain that dating is all about friendship. Teach them to date in groups, and to seek wholesome entertainment on their dates.
3. Be frank with your kids
They need to know about the dangers associated with dating. Teach them how to protect themselves if a date tries to force himself or herself on them. They never have to submit to forced affections that could lead to date-rape. Act out situations with them so they will know how to say no and how to fend off an aggressive date. Let them know that they can always call you to come and get them if they feel unsafe. And be sure they have a cell phone with them.
4. Talk with your kids about sexual feelings and appropriate dating behavior
Let them know that giving kisses out like candy can be a big mistake. Teach them to guard their kisses. Too much kissing and hugging leads to more physical intimacy that needs to be saved for marriage. Let them know what that "more" is. They need "the talk" long before they start dating — hopefully before they hear it from their peers. And they need to hear about it many times after, always being aware of what they are ready for as they grow.
5. Let them know the evidence of the dangers of being sexually active too early
It may seem fun at the time, but it can lead to heartache that can ruin the rest of their lives. They need to know the likelihood and the dangers of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). "Time Magazine" recently reported that STD rates are at a record high.
Kids need to know this is a serious matter. According to HealthyPeople.gov, "STDs cause many harmful, often irreversible, and costly clinical complications, such as:
Reproductive health problems,
Fetal and perinatal health problems,
Facilitation of the sexual transmission of HIV infection."
The most effective protection from getting an STD is for both partners to save sex until marriage.
After all, it was created by God to make for a fulfilling marriage that can bring children into the world. Let them know that it's a good thing, but only when it is respected and used within the boundaries God intended.
7. Help them understand that dating is a time to get to know a person
Kids who are sexually active miss the chance to really know the other person, because the purpose of a date ends up being just for that — sexual gratification.
Engaging in wholesome, fun activities allows them to know what a person is like in all areas of their lives. When kids understand this they are better equipped to pick a worthy partner to marry when the time comes. Statistics show they have a higher chance for marital happiness when sexual activity is saved for that forever mate.
Having fun with your kids as they grow creates a greater chance for a more open dialogue with them about serious matters, such as dating. Show interest in what they are doing, be there for them, and listen to them. Do these things and they will be far more interested in listening to you and following your counsel.