Is My Tween Ready to Date?
How to Deal with Your Teen's Desire to Date and Fit In
Dear April Masini,
My son is 13, and has begun showing interest in girls. Some of his friends have "girlfriends" and these girls are allowed to hang out at these boys' homes, sometimes unsupervised. This all seems a bit out of line to me, but maybe I'm old-fashioned. I'm older than the other moms, and I wasn't allowed to date until I was 17.
What's the deal with dating today, and how do you know when your kid is ready?
April Masini's Advice :
If you're not sure whether your child is old enough to be dating, or not, that's normal. But it doesn't mean you should sit back and do nothing. The reason your uncertainty is normal is that the main job of adolescents is to break away from their parents. They do this in many different ways. Sometimes they lash out at you causing a fight that will serve the purpose of separating the two of you. Sometimes they are secretive and create their own life -- or part of their life that is their own -- away from you and your watchful eyes, which also serves the purpose of separating the two of you.
None of it is pleasant for either party, the parent or the child, but remember that growth is rarely comfortable. And adults aren't perfect either. Sometimes they blame the other people in their child's life for their child's own behavior. For instance they lash out at their child's friends instead of really figuring out what is happening.
Drinking and Dating
Kids live in a more dangerous world than we did or our parents did. In some places, drug use is rampant, and the problem isn't just that your child may take drugs - it is compounded by the fact that your child may take drugs that are not what they appear.
You don't know who's selling what to whom, and keeping your child off drugs is important. If your teen's doing a little experimenting, these days that can be fatal. That's why you do have to covertly invade their secret world to keep them safe. Don't be hyper-vigilant and over reactive in your quest to know, but do be consistent and don't be lazy. Ask. If you don't get answers, talk to other parents and know whom your child is hanging out with. You may find out more about your child through their friends' parents.
As any adult who's dated knows, alcohol is a normal part of much adult socializing and dating - not all adult dating, but much of it. Meeting someone for a drink that is wine or a martini is just as normal as meeting someone for coffee, and children imitate adults - not just the ones in their real life, but the ones they see on television who have sexy, glamorous dates that involve drinking. Once you wrap your head around the fact that experimenting with drinking is a normal rite of passage -- whether you like it or not -- you can take the proper steps to make sure your child is safe.
Love, Sex and Dating
Kids are developing sexually earlier now, than ever before in history. The average age of puberty for a girl is no longer 13. It's closer to 10. That said, sexual feelings around the age of puberty, and slightly before, are normal. In addition, children whose parents are divorced may see their parents dating or being affectionate in second marriages that are in honeymoon stages. This has had a correlation between children of divorce becoming sexualized earlier than children who come from non-divorced parents with intact homes. Rather than lock your child in their room, celebrate their growing up at the same time teaching them responsibility.
Take your children to see movies and read books in which love and sex are directly connected - like the movie Shakespeare in Love - rather than movies where sex is separate from love. Your main job is to educate your child about sex, but at the same time about responsibility and love. Talk about what relationships are and open up about your own past. Tell about your first date, your adolescence and be honest. Tell the embarrassing stories and the stories where you were vulnerable. Tell your child what you wish you'd done different and what you'd do the same if you had it to do all over again.
Be open to finding out what your child wants in terms of dating and a relationship. Some kids want to be part of the crowd, but don't want an intimate relationship with a girl. If this is the case, encourage and support group dating. This is when one parent -- sometimes with the cooperation of another parent, organizes and CHAPERONES a burger dinner and a PG-13 rated movie for about six kids, half boys and half girls. If your child is invited to one of these group dates -- usually the outspoken teen (most likely a girl at age 13) will organize the event and your child will come to you for permission to go. Your job is to call the parent who is driving and get their phone number (and cell phone) as well as pick up and drop off times and places. Make sure your child has enough money for the night -- you don't want to saddle the chaperoning parent with the bill for all of the kids, and then tell your kid to have a great time.
When To Put The Kabosh On Dating
Feel free to put the kabosh on one-on-one dating at age 13. There is no law that says you have to let your child do what they want when they want it.
Saying no is sometimes EXACTLY what your child wants, but is unable to tell you. Telling your child that they can't date until they are 15, 16, or 17 is fine. You may not get compliance, but there is NOTHING wrong with your being honest about your feelings in parenting.
Many parents are afraid to say, no to their children and teens, and that is often where the problems start.