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Dating

I Let My Young Teens “Date”

By Chris Jordan

Dear 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) Teens 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) Teens 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

 

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she wrote about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

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

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she wrote 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 a teen now.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

 

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Jadzia@Toddlerisms
Guest

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!!!

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

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… Read more »

Liz
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Liz

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… Read more »

Jason
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Jason

Well, apparently dating young is more dangerous than a DUI.

caree
Guest
caree

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… Read more »

Marci
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Marci

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… Read more »

Suzie
Guest

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… Read more »

leslie
Guest
leslie

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… Read more »

erica
Guest
erica

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!

Paulla
Guest

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… Read more »

Rebecca
Guest

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… Read more »

hennifer
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hennifer

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

hennifer
Guest
hennifer

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… Read more »

Deb
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Deb

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… Read more »

Mandie
Guest
Mandie

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… Read more »

Becca
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Becca

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… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest

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.  

Ann
Guest

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. 

MM
Guest
MM

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… Read more »

suburbancorrespondent
Guest

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,… Read more »

April
Guest
April

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.

Kelsey
Guest
Kelsey

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.… Read more »

Austin
Guest
Austin

This isn’t relevant to the post. “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.” This implies that when you were dating, you were actually going places, alone, with men much older than you. The post clearly says “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… Read more »

Austin
Guest
Austin

Woops, forgot to mention my girlfriend is also 15, and we have been together for almost 6 months now.

Katherine
Guest
Katherine

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… Read more »

patricisma
Guest
patricisma

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… Read more »

Alyssa
Guest
Alyssa

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

Barbara
Guest
Barbara

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… Read more »

jennifer
Guest
jennifer

I’m going to get right to the point my daughter’s are 12 13 15 16  and I don’t allow dating until 16 if they are keeping their grades up I’m strict and I found out my 13 yr old went behind our backs n started dating this boy and the way I found out was his number was on my phone she got grounded for living to us and sneaking around behind our backs when we were a little bit easier on her about dating she was cutting herself whenever she got upset so because of that we have had… Read more »

scareedforever
Guest
scareedforever

NOPE!  My mom allowed my sister to date and she had a teen pregnancy. Never leetting my kids to date until they graduate hs Teenagers are not eable to handle dating.

LordChaoticX
Guest
LordChaoticX

that’s one fish in a ocean of trillions your children will date regardless of what you say and its better to support them and they know they are supported. than them winging it with no supervision or wisdom from you I dated regardless of what my mother said because I thought she was ruining my life. but honest to god I wished she supported me and gave me advice instead of me sneaking around having no clue what the heck I was doing and I couldn’t ask her for advice

Deena
Guest
Deena

I so needed this advice! Thank you. My 13 year old son just asked me if he was allowed to have a girlfriend. I felt it was important to support him and set some ground rules for “dating” then say no and have him do it behind my back where I have no opportunity to be a positive influence. This is a huge transition for our children as they begin to stick their toe in the dating waters. I think this way, he knows I trust him and is not afraid to talk to me about his feelings because he… Read more »

Kris
Guest
Kris

My kids can date at 16. They haven’t snuck out or bent this rule. I have sleep disorder so I’d be awake if they tried to sneak out. I brought them up with respect. My daughter asks approval for all FB buddies. “They’re going to do it anyway” is lazy sh!te parenting. I track all comm through OpenDNS (no way for two FB accounts). They do not have cellphones. What happened to on point parenting? No wonder kids run wild everywhere. A child’s brain is not fully developed until 21-25, but at 14 they should get into a relationship? My… Read more »

Lilly
Guest
Lilly

its not that deep fam

Kim Ellsworth Evans
Guest
Kim Ellsworth Evans

My daughter is 14, almost 15 and a sophomore in high school. Her idea of dating centers around the Disney show Girl meets world. She got asked out to join a boy for a family hiking trip. I almost choked but tried the teachable moment. She asked what happens on a date. I explained that she defines the boundaries and she should feel free to say that I like your company but I don’t know if I feel that way about you. she is very cute and very nice. I have no experience to guide her through this. So isn’t… Read more »

Crystal
Guest
Crystal

I have two sons, 12 and 3 years old and an 8 year old daughter. I’ve talked about dating before they were old enough to understand what I was talking about. My rules: 1. You should be able take your date out and pay for it on your own. 2. You should be old enough to put the other persons feelings above your own. Everyone matures differently so I don’t specify an age. My son in 6th grade received an anonymous “crush” letter from a young girl. Not only did he come to me and share this news with me,… Read more »

Diana
Guest
Diana

Hi, thanks for the advice, my 13 year old daughter started dating a 13 year old boy, the boy ask to date her… And I was really afraid about making the wrong decision, we agreed. My husband and I have met the boy’s parents and both party’s have agreed that the kids will be allowed to visit at each others home under adult supervision, they both know that they should never be home together while there are no parents at home. So far everything is going well, me and the mom have developed a nice friendship too. So I hope… Read more »

PL
Guest
PL

I am a parent of an almost 16 year old son and a 13 year old daughter, who are my life. I am divorced and my children have discovered first hand how not to treat another human being. My daughter asked me at 13 if she could have a boyfriend, after much deliberation, discussions and conditions, I said yes. Her boyfriend’s slightly older, not what I would have thought she would have chosen and she seems totally smitten, to the point that he seems controlling and she is losing her happiness as a child. They are supervised at all times,… Read more »