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I Let My Young Teens “Date”

Mar26

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I am very pleased to announce that Chris Jordan will now be fielding questions about raising tweens and teens. This really has come about because Chris’ inbox has been filling up with readers sending her personalized emails asking her advice and since we’re all in this together, why not share with you all, right? If you have a question, please email Chris at this specific email address: adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com. Please keep your questions on the issue of raising older kids.

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Chris,

Some of my children’s friends have started dating. We have told our daughter that we don’t want her to date. We will not allow her to have a boyfriend until she is 16. She thinks that we are mean and are trying to make her life miserable. Since you have a houseful of kids, I am wondering how you deal with this. What are your thoughts on younger teens dating?

“Mean Mom”

Back when all of my children were small I always said that they could date once they were ready to get married. And I meant it. Based on my own life experiences I couldn’t see how it possibly could be a good thing. I wanted to protect them from being hurt.

As they have grown I have realized that there is no protecting children from being hurt. And that there are valuable lessons to be learned in all of our relationships, romantic and otherwise. And like so many other things that I was so certain about, I changed my mind.

Here are five reasons I let my children* date.

1) Define dating. You may be surprised by what your 13, 14, or 15 yr old considers dating. To my ancient mind, the term dating conjures up images of unsupervised alone time. My young teen boys are perfectly happy having their “girlfriend” come over to the house and have dinner with the family and then watch movies or play games in the family room with the entire family. I can’t think of a single thing wrong with this.

2) They are going to do it anyway. I know that many people think this is a horrible reason to allow your kids to do anything. Except that in this instance, I have seen time and time again parents who refuse to allow their kids to date and kids who lie, sneak around and do it anyway. Maybe you think your kids won’t lie to you, or disobey you, or sneak around and doing things behind your back, but I have been parenting long enough to know that they will. Choose the battles you know you can win. Join forces with them on the ones you can’t. Let them think that you are on their side.

3) You have more control. They can’t drive yet. They can’t go anywhere without permission. Let them have their girlfriend or boyfriend over to the house while you are home. You will get to know the kid. Get to know the other kid’s parents and what his/her home life is like. Make plans to do things with the other family. I have gone to the movies with my son’s girlfriend’s family, out to casual dinners, the amusement park. Once they can drive they will be off going places and you probably won’t know where half the time.

4) They are still willing to listen to what you have to say. The key is finding the way to say it so they will listen. One of my sons briefly had a girlfriend that was always angry at him for something. He never quite seemed to understand what he was doing wrong. To my credit, I didn’t once say, “Dump that drama queen!” The stakes at this younger age don’t seem as high. The emotional investment not as deep. It was much easier to help him realize that this girl was not really acting like a friend, which is the keypart of the word girl-friend.

A girlfriend or boyfriend should first and foremost be a friend. They should treat you the way a friend would treat you. There shouldn’t be arguing or jealousy or drama. You should have common interests and goals. This is a good age to point this out. Not just in boyfriend/girlfriend situations, but in all friendships. We may think our kids are perfect, but they are just learning to navigate this world and we need to remind them to be a kind and trustworthy friend and to expect the same.

5) It is a learning opportunity. This is the one that I feel is the most important for our children to learn. They are laying out the blueprint for the path their future relationships will take. You wouldn’t let your teenager drive without some instruction, view this as relationship instructions.

At this age they are still very much under your control, supervision and guidance. In a few years they will be in high school and you will not be privy to much of the inner workings of their social lives. This is the perfect opportunity to teach them what being in a relationship with someone means.

As an example I’ll share this story. My 7th grade son and I were in the grocery store one day when he remarked that some purple flowers were his girlfriend’s favorite color. I asked him if he thought he would like to buy them for her. (They are $5 a bunch, hardly a huge expenditure.) He looked at me like I had just suggested he dance naked in the checkout aisle.

Apparently it would be weird. I don’t presume to understand the inner-workings of a middle school aged boy’s mind, so I dropped the subject. A few days later he had oral surgery and his girlfriend came over with balloons and ice cream for him. This was the perfect opportunity to bring up how it made him feel to have someone do something spontaneously nice for him. I never mentioned the flowers, but brought up the point that we do special things for special people in our lives–family and friends.

Later that week we were grocery shopping again– I swear I live there at the grocery store– and when he saw the flowers he asked if he could buy a bouquet. I don’t know that I have seen anything recently that I more wanted to take a photo of than him standing at his girlfriend’s front door, holding the bouquet behind his back. He told me later that she was so happy and in turn it made him so happy.

Not only are you teaching them how to treat future girlfriends and eventually a spouse, but they are learning how to expect to be treated.

My son’s girlfriend’s mother called me that night and said that her daughter told her that if they ever break up he will be a tough act for any other boy to follow because he is so kind to her. I think that is the sort of thing we all hope for as parents, on both sides–to hear your child is kind or to hear that your child expect kindness.

I am curious about all the other parents of teenagers, soon-to-be-teens, survived-the-teen-years think? How have you handled the idea of dating in your home? Do you have rules? Is there an appropriate age carved in stone at your house?

*Before middle school “dating” is basically telling everyone that you are “going out” and then consistently ignoring the other person to the point that no one would ever believe you two even know each other, let alone are boyfriend and girlfriend. I pretty much ignore all references to girlfriends and boyfriends at that age and I absolutely do not encourage it. No phone calls, no texting, nothing.

Photosource: Thinkstock

 

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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25 Responses to “I Let My Young Teens “Date””

  1. Jadzia@Toddlerisms Mar 26 at 4:45 pm Reply Reply

    It is really difficult for me even to process the thought of my kids dating, so I am commenting just to express my admiration for the wonderful lesson you taught your son wrt the purple flowers.  I have 3 sons and often feel like my MOST important job with them is to raise them to treat women well — because I unfortunately was married to a man who was taught to treat women like crap, and it sucked.  Your son sounds wonderful and if he keeps it up, you’ll have a DIL someday who LOVES you!!!

  2. Danielle Mar 27 at 8:22 am Reply Reply

    It’s a good point that kids will do it anyway. My mom dictated that I was not allowed to date until I was 16. No ifs, ands or buts. So what did I (a normally well-behaved, model kid) do in response? I had two boyfriends before I turned 16. Except I kept them secret from my mom (one was a friend’s older brother, and the other a boy who hung out with my regular group of friends — so that was easy enough to conceal). Neither relationship lasted long anyway (I had mighty high standards, even at 13), but who knows what could have happened. Clearly I had the willingness and smarts to hide it from my uber-protective mother for as long as I did. I’m certain I could have got away with more (although, I’m glad now that I didn’t!)

  3. Liz Mar 27 at 9:42 am Reply Reply

    My parents told me I couldn’t date until I was 16, and then on my 16th birthday, changed it to 18. I never attended a single school dance, not even stag. I had a normal middle class family, not strictly religious or anything. Suburbs in the 1980-90s, where the norm was to “date” around 12, like how you described above. My older siblings had no such rules and dated at 14. The “joke” was that I had to wait until I was 18 because I was the cute one in the family. Guess what happened? Every. parent’s. worst. nightmare. I climbed out my bedroom window and would be gone all night, seeing terrible guys who were much older with their own apartments. The secrecy allowed them to treat me however they wanted, with no one to answer to. By 16, I was in a controlling, abusive relationship, and by 17 I was punched in the face by the guy in my own front yard, but I couldn’t tell my parents, who were right inside, because I wasn’t supposed to have a boyfriend anyway. I was sexually assaulted and felt I couldn’t tell my parents, so I never went to the police either. The day I turned 18, while still in my senior year, I moved out and didn’t speak to my parents for years. I blamed them for not protecting me from abuse at such a young age. So um, parents, seriously. Let your kids bring “dates” into the house, supervised. Get to know their dates. Keep the communication open. Iron-fisted rules teach your children that you do not trust them, and they will no longer care to earn your trust. It is dangerous, and it will drive your child away from you.

  4. caree Mar 27 at 11:11 am Reply Reply

    OMG @Liz, your story is so telling. Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry that you had to go through that! ~Hugs~.

    I too, was raised by a (a bit paranoid psychotic) iron-fisted mom that never trusted me since the day I was born. Her big thing was lying and ‘If I ever catch you blahblahblah’. So I became the world’s best liar. Never once did she ever give me an incentive to tell the truth and only punished me when I did.

    True story- when I grew up and applied to be a police officer, a lie detector test was part of the application process, to which I swiftly and easily defeated. Ha!

    I think parents today (as I am a new one myself) can’t be blind to the realities of today’s childhood, but they can’t treat them like adversaries or delinquents either. Be on your child’s team. And I agree with Chris, they may be your ‘babies’ but it’s still your job to teach them how to be well-adjusted adults; everything can be a lesson.

  5. Marci Mar 27 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    I agree 100% with all of the above.  Open communication is important.  What kids do now and how they are with others is key to learning how to be in a relationship when they are adults.  Also, my daughter (just 16) was asked out recently and the relationship only lasted three weeks.  She learned that she would rather be single and free than tied to one person.  Breaking up with him was hard on her and apparently he took it poorly.  However, another lesson was learned.  A few weeks later she was asked out again (apparently all the boys are realizing how great she is) and she turned him down.  She learned that just because a boy asks you out doesn’t mean you should say yes. 

  6. Suzie Mar 28 at 9:47 am Reply Reply

    Yeah, I was a window-sneaker-outer, too. And while my 15 yo daughter has yet to figure out who she wants to date, my 13 yo has had the “middle school boyfriends.” It hasn’t occurred to me to tell her she could not do this. Usually, I need to talk to her about being careful with people’s feelings, because she tends to say “yes” when someone asks her to “go out” with him, but then immediately feels uncomfortable and awkward, and so she ignores him. We talk about her power to say no, the benefits of being honest, the value of having a goddamned conversation.

    I think this is a great time for them to figure all of this out. I “let them” “date.”

  7. leslie Mar 30 at 2:08 pm Reply Reply

    Kind of a broken record here, but kids are definitely going to do what they want. The question is, do you want to be aware of it and able to have some control or do you want them to lie to you and sneak around? When I was a teenager, my friends with the strict parents were always sneaking around and lying. Not for a second did their parents telling them they couldn’t do something keep them from doing it. On the other hand, my parents were pretty permissive and open to me dating, etc. (even in Jr High). And you know what? They always knew were I was and what I was up to, b/c I didn’t have to lie. I roomed with a friend from home my freshman year of college. Her parents were super strict and she was one of the ones always sneaking around in high school. The second she was away from her parents at school, she went crazy. She came home wasted all the time and was sleeping with several different guys at once (and, not surprisingly, ended up pregnant and having an abortion, unbeknowst to her parents of course). It was not a fun time, and she does not look back on it fondly. Do your kids a favor and listen to them. They are growing up, and it’s completely natural for them to be attracted to the oppposite sex and want to spend time with them. It’s what puberty is all about. Just set some reasonable boundaries. You’ll be thankful later when you have a child who is open and honest with you rather than deceiving you at every opportunity.

  8. erica Apr 04 at 11:37 am Reply Reply

    My son is in 7th grade and is “dating” a girl. At first I was nervous about it, but have decided if I don’t make it a big deal, it won’t become one. I’ve taken them to the movies, let him buy her a card, etc. My rule is they do things with groups of friends and are supervised. It’s a good way to teach children how to treat others. I would much rather my children be open and honest with me than to sneak around and be put in a position to lie. Great article!

  9. Paulla Apr 04 at 1:42 pm Reply Reply

    I’m on the other end of this, for the most part. My kids are 18, 19 and almost 25. Like you, Chris, I homeschooled for many years and thought they shouldn’t date until they were ready to marry. Things obviously changed. My son had a sweet girlfriend for 4 years (thru college) but she had terribly strict parents and couldn’t ever be honest with them. In the end, she lied to him as well. It was all very sad. We ALL learned a lot from that painful chapter in his life.

    All my children have dated and my husband and I have been there every step of the way, sometimes advising, always watching, and of course holding our breath and praying! :) In a perfect world, they wouldn’t date until they’re ready for marriage, but alas, it’s not a perfect world. They do need that instruction like you mentioned.

    Well said.

  10. Rebecca Apr 04 at 2:39 pm Reply Reply

    Great advice from everyone, my daughter is only 10 so I still have some time (hopefully!). As of right now she thinks all the boyfriend stuff is stupid.  

    I didn’t really have any set rules about dating but I did have one instance in 8th grade where my mom picked me up from a friends house where a bunch of us were hanging out in her front yard (including my then boyfriend) my mom and sister teased me about how he looked like a baby. Bam! From then on I didn’t whisper a work about my boyfriends to my mom or sister. So tread gently with those delicate teenage emotions!

  11. hennifer Apr 04 at 6:29 pm Reply Reply

    test because I’m not going to put out my reply and then have my computer freak lol

    • hennifer Apr 04 at 6:33 pm Reply Reply

      I think this is a lovely article. My son is almost 11 and girls haven’t come in the picture but I’m sure they will soon enough. My parents never forbade dating but they weren’t very involved either and I did a lot of physical stuff right under their noses. They weren’t very good about addressing birds and bees and we had a lot of dsyfunction in our house (mental illness, etc). I can see how if things had been less crazy it could have been really good. I love your idea about friend being the important component of this relationship and all the learning. I don’t feel like I ever really got that, I never really dated just went head long into intense physicality and got abused and broken when they ended. Ironically I often had my sexual promiscuity thrown back in my face for why boys often dumped me. This friend thing got lost in my marriage and now 15 years later I’m not sure I know what a relationship should be like let alone what to teach my son so again I’m very thankful for an article such as this.

  12. Deb Apr 04 at 8:13 pm Reply Reply

    I didn’t allow my four children to date until 16…and truth be told, none of them were particularly interested in it until then, though this may be because we homeschooled. They did get to hang out and socialize with mixed groups of teens and have friends over. They’re all grown now, and though I only have one daughter, she and one other son have told me separately that having that rule made it easier for them to “get out” of awkward situations with people who were pursuing them.

    However, just because I didn’t allow dating before 16 doesn’t mean we avoided the strife that came later with boyfriends/girlfriends. It just means they were a little older and a bit more mature to handle it.

  13. Mandie Apr 04 at 11:36 pm Reply Reply

    We are in the thick of it right now.  My 14-year-old son is just starting to become interested but he’s not quite there yet.  

    My 16-year-old son has had a few girlfriends a long the way.  The first two were in middle school where “dating” consisted of maybe hanging out at lunch with each other.  He had a lovely girlfriend last year as a freshman in high school.  She was not allowed to date until she was 16, but her parents allowed her to go out in groups.  We were in touch with her parents, and they could hang out here or at their place, as long as a parent was home.  It worked fine until they broke up.  I think I was more unhappy about that than they were.

    Currently he is “dating” a girl who cannot date at all until she’s 16.  Her parents don’t know they’re going out.  As a result, they have never seen each other outside of school.  We’ve had several long conversations about this, and I’m not terribly happy but am not too sure what to do about it.

  14. Becca Apr 05 at 12:07 am Reply Reply

    I was not allowed to date until I was 16, but a boy asked me out when I was 15 and I went to my parents and asked them to reconsider and they did. No big deal there, I just had to listen to my dad stammer about being prepared for hugging…and kissing…and, er, stuff. I later found out that my parents “had” to get married, which is why he was so concerned! I told my daughters they could date at 16 but they also knew my story, so I was prepared for a request for an exception. But, my first two daughters were both asked out on their 16th by boys who knew and followed the rules. That may be because we live in a pretty conservative area. Daughter #3 is now 21 and still has not even been asked out, ever. That’s been more difficult by far.

  15. Jennifer Apr 05 at 10:51 am Reply Reply

    My oldest is 13, almost out of middle school and hasn’t begun to date yet.  He admits to liking someone, but says there is no way he would ever date.  We will see how long that lasts.  Many of his friends have girlfriends.  He is very small for his age and I think that makes him hesitant to date – the girls look like women and he looks like he is 10.  

  16. Ann Apr 05 at 4:33 pm Reply Reply

    Well said, Chris. I especially like how you pointed out that early dating is a teaching experience – teaching kids how they should treat others and expect to be treated in return. 

  17. MM Apr 09 at 11:43 am Reply Reply

    I completely agree. I could leave it at that, but I’m taking advantage of this anonymous forum to talk about my kids and still respect their privacy.

    My daughter was in 4th grade (age 9!) when she talked to me about dating. One girl in her class was pressuring her friends to have boyfriends.

    I wanted to freak out. But I asked her what “going together” was in 4th grade. She said it was sitting next to each other at lunch and talking to each other at recess. She already was friends with the boy in question and she didn’t see how calling it dating would change anything. But she was nervous too.

    We had several good talks about what she would say if she decided to say no (how to be kind to the boy) and what to do if she said yes, and later changed her mind. And why she should behave as she wanted, not as her “friend” thought she should.

    In the end, she decided not to go out with him because her “friend” was pressuring all the couples to hug on the playground. She kindly told him that she was too young to go out with anyone, but she really liked him. (That girl is now in 6th grade and grinding with boys in the stairwells at school. My daughter is no longer friends with her, but is still friends with the boy who asked her out.)

    If I had said no, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to guide her through the dating process and have her “own” her decision.

    My son is 14 and girls have aggressively pursued him for years. He’s shown no interest until last year. (Puberty, man. It changes everything.)

    He has always talked to me about his friends’ experiences with girls and those have been great “teachable moments,” in part because I’m not addressing his behavior directly.

    He was going out with a girl for a brief time this year, and he asked me to help him pick out a Valentine’s Day present. (If he could have driven himself, he wouldn’t have confided in me, I’m sure.) But this was a great evening for us, and he asked a lot of questions about girls and relationships.

    Dating is a rite of passage. We are teaching our sons to be good boyfriends and husbands. We are teaching our daughters to be good girlfriends and wives. We are teaching them to respect themselves and define their boundaries. Sex and romantic love are part of life, and many parents think that they can ignore those topics until their child is practically an adult.

    That is not to say that I don’t worry about my children (OK, at this point, mainly my son) having sex. I do. Way. Too. Much. My dad and one of my brothers were teen dads. Fortunately/Unfortunately, they provide great teachable moments.

  18. suburbancorrespondent Apr 10 at 7:12 pm Reply Reply

    I think what stands out in this post and in a lot of the comments is the importance of not shutting down communication. Any particular teen behavior isn’t bad in and of itself, only when it is carried on without a parent’s knowledge or input. Essentially, we need to follow a child’s lead on when he is ready to start dating — some teens feel better knowing they don’t have to deal with any of that stuff until they are older, while others are curious and really want to get their feet wet.

    Listen to your child, use common sense, stay involved – and don’t be surprised if bad things happen anyway. As a parent, you can do everything “right” and still have a teen with problems. Life is a crapshoot sometimes.

  19. April Apr 15 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    My kids are not allowed to “car date” until they are 16. We have allowed, supervised, observed, and tried not to comment as our oldest has dated as described above – always driven by us or the boy’s parents and with a parent or an activity in a public place with lots of other friends. So far so good! As the saying goes, kids need roots and wings. They need opportunities to learn while having a safety net when things don’t go as they hoped.

  20. Kelsey Apr 22 at 1:20 am Reply Reply

    I have a totally different view on things! I am 19, I have been married for a year, and Expecting my first child in June. Also, I am on youth staff at our church.  As someone who was freely allowed to “date” starting at 14, I look back and think, “What were my parents thinking?” my first boyfriend was 17, drove a crotch rocket, and couldn’t look my father in the eyes. Yet, my parents were very tight lipped and never said it was a bad idea to date. After that, some boyfriends were pretty decent, others not so much. I look back at high school and think about how immature I was- just a year ago. My husband is 21 and we decided to get married the Christmas of my senior year. Also, my husband decided not to date until he knew he had prayed about the relationship and that’s who God had for him. I was the only woman that he ever kissed. (And he’s definitely cute!)  I was then married literally as soon as I graduated high school. I wish my parents had told me not to date. I wish my parents had explained what real relationships were- relationships that were based on God and lasted forever. Now that I am responsible for 15 teen girls, I tell them ALL the time, dating can wait. You can’t get married, you can’t drive, you can’t even pick out your own outfits most the time! I see nothing wrong with the now old fashioned term, “courting.” That way everything is on the up and up and no one is confused about intentions. Nor do parents have to guess where there child is. It boils down to- what are you allowing to happen? Why do you HAVE to let someone get hurt? Especially your child? I will teach my son to pray for his future spouse- that she is waiting for him and keeping herself pure- just like him. Sometimes, a little protection will go a long way. I know my husband and I will teach our son to respect women, respect God’s authority, and respect his future spouse by not spoinling himself with women that will not last. He will be raised to be the man God intends him to be. 

  21. Katherine Jun 26 at 1:14 pm Reply Reply

    My 17 yo son asked if he could date in 8th grade, so late 13/early 14 years old. We asked what dating meant to him. He got flustered and didn’t want to talk about it. My position was that if we can’t discuss dating, then you aren’t old enough. A few weeks later, we did discuss it and he still wasn’t exactly sure what all dating entailed. We said, sure you can go to the 8th grade dance, yes, you can say you have a girlfriend. Yes you can do things in groups. That seemed to satisfy him then. He went to the dance with a group of friends and had fun, but no girlfriend. 
    Last summer at 16, he had a girlfriend briefly. They met at the movies a few times and went to play putt-putt golf. And changed his status on Facebook. Then the relationship just sort of fizzled. Right after school got out this year, they started dating again. He can now drive, but isn’t legally allowed teen passengers yet, so they still meet places. movies mostly.  She came to watch his swim meet. They wanted to go downtown to the aquarium, so rather than just drop them off, the whole family went. The two 17 yo hung out together, while DH and I and our 14 yo son went around separately, then we all went out to dinner. Te GF even got my son to volunteer at an art camp for a week.  I’m glad he is having at least an intro into dating while he is still at home.
    My 14 yo son has expressed zero interest in dating, not even wanting to go to the 8th grade dance. That is fine by me as I see so many of his friends getting feelings hurt in break ups and rejections. I figure his time will come.

  22. patricisma Jul 05 at 8:27 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t think 12,13,14or even 15yrs. old should have a boy friend/girlfriend. I raised twins, 1boy 1girl, and they could not date until highschool. Neither of hem tried to sneak around behind my back. If the parent is in control as they should be, then don’t be afraid to say no. Being strick is far better than being regretful. My children are 33 now, and I have NO! regrets on how I raised them Exsposing them too soon will only lead to regrets down the road.Be a parent to thevm now and a friend to them once they are an adult. Don’t try to be the cool parent. When I was young it was my parents house and my parents rules, that’s how I brought my children up and they turned out good! Dont push them to grow up and become adults, thatvwill come all too quickly. Now a days kids are far more advanced than mine were and way more than I ever was. A 12,13,14 or 15 yr old is not mature enough to suffer the consequences of what could
    happen. Little girls and little boys don’t really understand, theycare just struggling with hormonesxand puberty. So be a parent don’t incourage it and just say….NO!!!!!!!!!

  23. Alyssa Aug 07 at 3:39 am Reply Reply

    Age 16, I think you should just because it won’t really mean anything. It’s nothing serious and it won’t last long. And a hint they’ll do it anyways I know I did my mom said I could date till 15 I started dating at 12

  24. Barbara Oct 23 at 10:28 am Reply Reply

    Tuff stuff as a parent! After raising my daughter who is 21 I have learned to not stop them from dating but do not push or be excited when they do my daughter had a super nice first boyfriend but after graduating her brother asked her when he was entering highschool if it would have been better without a boyfriend . My daughter told him yes I would have been able to do more with friends although there time together was fun and harmless she missed out on lots of fun. I thank her for being honest with my son who at the time had his first girlfriend( very nice but needy girl) he secided being friend would be more fun smart kids I have lots of time in life left to meet the one! They are not ready to handle being grown up and they want to do grown up things we have to guide them not stop them! Good luck parents!

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