What are the Guidelines for Tween Dating?
How to Cope With Pre-Teen Dating
Dear April Masini,
My daughter is 15 and wants to start dating. There's an older boy who's been calling the house and talking to her on a daily basis, and now would like to take her to the movies. My husband and I feel she is too young, but she has correctly pointed out that many of her friends have dated for the past few years.
I don't want to restrict my daughter in a way that's not normal, but I also don't want to encourage her or allow her to jump into a relationship that she's not ready for. What's an appropriate age to begin dating? What should I do, and if I decide to let her date this boy, what do I need to tell her in terms of sex and safety?
Prim and Proper Parent
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Prim and Proper Parent,
Your daughter likely is too young to date. However, the maturity of a child and a parent's decisions are individual, so you need to assess the situation, and, if you decide not to allow your daughter to date, explain why.
I think that pre-teens are too young to date in any way. The whole point of dating has always been marriage and children. However, many women marry much later than ever now, but dating doesn't start later. It starts earlier. The other reason people date is because they have sexual longings and stirrings and want to express those feelings romantically and sexually to the other person. Pre-teens don't always have those sexual longings and stirrings, but feel pressured by society to start behaving in ways that they don't feel, organically. That said, if pre-teens are going to date, the healthiest way to do it is the least sexual way -- in groups where everyone goes dutch, in public places like movies and restaurants and bowling and school plays and sports events.
Double dating is the next step away from group dating and towards one-on-one dating, but it doesn't always follow naturally. High school is a good time for double dating. When teens are driving is also a good time for double dating. Usually, at least one teen in the group has a driver's license and a car and is a good driver.
One-on-one dating can be appropriate in high school. I prefer to see kids dating one-on-one only as early as juniors and seniors, and even then, it's really appropriate for them to play the field, as opposed to going steady and taking a romance too seriously.
Exclusive one on one dating is what teens and young adults should do when they want to be in a monogamous, committed relationship that leads to marriage. A lot of tweens aren't coming up with the ideas to date on their own; they're being pressured.
Reasons Tweens Feel Pressure to Date
a) They are developing secondary sexual characteristics earlier than ever and are hormonally charged earlier than ever in history.
b) Children of divorce see their single parents dating. This introduces the idea of dating and sex earlier than in in-tact families.
c) Pre-teens feel pressured to date because sex sells and it's all over television, music television, music lyrics and advertisements.
Reasons a Tween Shouldn't Be Dating
He or she is under the age of 16. (Anyone under the age of 18 is still a minor, and dating is not a legal right a minor may have. It's a privilege.)
He or she is getting grades below a C.
He or she is using drugs, alcohol or showing any other unstable behavior signs.
Dealing With, "Everyone Else is Doing It, So Why Can't I?"
This is a perfect time to explain that age has nothing to do with behavior in many cases. Just because someone is 40, doesn't mean they're richer than someone who is 30. Just because someone is 20 doesn't mean they're ready to have babies more than someone who is 25 -- and vice versa.
Having character and being a strong individual with good values means standing out in a crowd on occasion.
Appropriate Dating Situations
If you do decide to let a preteen or tween date, here are some of the more appropriate dating situations for that age:
- Go out in groups of five through eight kids. It's more fun. There's less pressure and less awkwardness.
- Everybody pay for themselves. Going dutch is appropriate at this age.
- Make sure a parent does the driving -- not a teenage brother or sister. It's safer.
- Stay away from alcohol and drugs. It's easier to stay away from alcohol and drugs when you go to the movies, bowling, miniature golfing and other activities that take place at public venues like school dances and plays. Hanging out for hours at someone's house when the parents aren't home is an invitation to bad behavior.
- Don't have sex. This means oral sex as well as intercourse. Wait until you're older. Hand holding is okay. Hugging is okay. Kissing lightly is okay. Wait for everything else.
- If you find that your crowd of friends is starting to experiment with sex and drugs, find a new crowd of friends. There are lots of nice, fun people your age out there.
What to Tell Your Kid About Sex and Dating
How about, "You're too young to have sex. You may hold hands, hug, and kiss your date goodnight, lightly on the lips. That's it."
Too many parents are afraid to talk about sex. Kids want limits. They want information. If you don't give it to them, you're inviting them to experiment. Giving them information, however, is not insurance that they won't experiment, but there are kids who do want limits and if you don't set them, you didn't do your job as a parent.