When your child says he or she is dating someone, your first response may be to panic. But, what does dating really mean today? Does it mean kids see each other at school and contact each other via social media; is dating going out with a group to a party; is dating one-on-one alone time with someone else?
As a parent, you play an important role in helping your child navigate new relationships in safe and healthy ways. The conversations that you have with your child about dating will show him or her how much you care and will also help him or her learn how to set healthy limits for himself or herself. Youth need to learn how to balance family, school, hobbies, and friends. You can help your child achieve an appropriate balance!
Dating expectations are going to be different for every family as they are rooted in family values. Both parents should agree on dating rules and expectations, and children need to be aware of what the expectations are. So, talk! Once parents or caregivers are in agreement, they should openly communicate with their child. Ask your child what it means to be dating, so you have an understanding of what he or she is planning or arranging. Then, talk about the ground rules.
Check in with your child about the following:
- Whom will he or she be with when going out?
- Where he or she would like to go?
- What he or she plans to do there?
- When will he or she be home?
These Who, Where, What, and When questions are great for gathering information. Also, don’t forget to talk to your child about the need to check-in if the plan must change.
When you have pre-teens and teenagers, conversations about sex (including safety and consent), sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, and dating violence should take place on a regular basis. Share information and your concerns. Also, make sure you listen when your youth shares his or her opinions or asks questions. Families will have different views regarding dating and sex, and honestly and openly communicating with your child is a great place to start!
Families also need to discuss technology. Sexting¾that is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images on any digital device¾should be discussed. Youth often share very personal things with his or her partner and think that no one else will know about or see it; however, once shared, there is no way to make this content private again. In some cases, the information that is shared may be illegal. Talking with youth about sexting and not sending sexually explicit material is a must!