Teens and dating: a frightening prospect for moms and dads who used to be teens and remember dating! Some of us had good experiences, some of us had more challenging teen years and some of us couldn’t wait to see the teen years behind us! Regardless, now YOU’RE the parent, and things look a whole lot different on this end of the teen dating game.
When, who and how your teen should date may be cultural and will vary from family to family. In my family, I was not allowed to date until I was 16, and that was adhered to regardless of where I was going. For example, when I was just a few weeks away from turning 16, this very cute senior wanted to drive me to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes function. My father was deployed for a year, so the burden was on my mother’s shoulders to hold to the family rules. We presented the case to her. She listened, thought and then made a decision. I didn’t go. I about died of embarrassment. In the end, I lived; however, the relationship did not. It was shortly thereafter that the cute football player started dating another senior girl.
Whatever your rules are, I recommend you consider the following advice. It’s not just my advice; it’s an accumulation of many parents far wiser and more experienced than I am. What do I bring to the table? Three teens down and three more to go through the teen dating years and trust me, I now understand more than when my first little bird started trying to fly out of the nest.
Trust No One
This sounds terrible, and I would have never written it six years ago. I have good kids. Good kids make mistakes and fudge the truth. Check and double-check their stories. Where they are, who they are with and what they are doing. Blind trust in teens is asking to be deeply disappointed. There is the occasional teen that rarely fibs, fudges or smudges the edges of truth and if that is your teen, be thankful. Thank your teen for telling the truth but acknowledge you will still follow up on occasion to help keep him or her safe.
Don’t Be THAT Parent
The parent I’m referring to is the one who says “Oh my child would never do that; my child knows better.” Odds are if these words have ever come out of your mouth, you WILL re-digest them. It’s not because teens are untrustworthy, “bad” or rebellious. It’s because they are TEENS. They are still growing, their brains are still developing and their ability to measure out the second and third order effects of their choices is not fully developed. Their critical thinking skills are pretty dicey at this point. So what do we do? Lock them up until the frontal lobe of their brain catches up to their hormones? Absolutely not; we stay involved and try to stay aware.
Set Up Bumpers and Roadblocks
These boys/men and girls/women we call our teenage sons and daughters are in such an all-fired hurry to grow up. Rules are necessary and need to be adhered to and enforced. Those are the bumpers. The consequences become the roadblocks. If your rule is no single dating until a certain age, then stick to it. Prom for a 16-year-old doesn’t need to be alone in a car on dark road with the glow of the dashboard light illuminating the heavy breathing. A group date rule is the bumper. Will it stop potential physical activity? Not always, but it will make it more difficult.
Have I followed a child? Have I called to verify where my children were? Have I checked the alarm system history to see when the alarm was disarmed? Yes, yes I have. Have I been pleasantly surprised? I have! But I have also been disappointed and thankful I was able to intervene before anything unfortunate or even tragic happened.
You Are Not Your Child’s Friend
My children could quote this: “I am not your friend; I am your mother! You will have many friends, but you will only have one mother.” Sometimes it’s painful to be the mother or father. We have to be the bad guy, but we might be the only thing that stands in the way of a really bad decision.
Show an Increase of Love
The most important thing I’ve learned is you can never show enough love, especially after a “learning” moment has happened for your teen. Bumpers and roadblocks are not about stifling their growth or keeping them from having fun, no matter how much they tell you they are. They can be done with love, affection and soft voices. They are about helping them grow up, learn tough lessons and become the best “who” that they can be with as little negative fallout as possible.