Dating is a scary and exciting passage for teenagers. It is thrilling, and sometimes devastating. It can help a person sort out what they want in a permanent relationship, but it can also open a world of possibilities not apparent from the cocoon of your family. It is hard for us as parents because it is so obviously a step towards leaving the nest.
I don't think there are any sure-fire formulas for dating success and safety, but I do think there are some common-sense pieces that should be in place before dating begins:
- Your child should have some long-term goals, and have thought about where relationships fit into that. (How much time can be devoted to a relationship? Can your child defer one desire in favor of another? Will they leave an event where there is under-age drinking or illegal drugs are being used?)
- Your child should know what a healthy relationship looks like. Ask them who they admire; ask them what they hope their future partnership will look like. This will help them avoid, or at least more quickly realize if they get involved in an unhealthy relationship.
- Your child should know how to say and hear "NO". Do not let your child date without having the mutual consent conversation. (Which hopefully started over sharing toys and clothing and isn't a new concept now.)
- While they live under your roof, they should not be dating people you haven't met. I also think that they should not be dating people in other life stages (ie no dating people with drivers' licenses until you have one of your own, no dating people with their own apartments until you have your own, etc. And the reverse is also true!)
- It goes without saying that they should have been schooled in safe practices related to: alcohol and drugs, sexual activity, driving, violence, manipulation, etc.
- It also seems common-sense that they should date on money they earned themselves. Kids who are willing to mow lawns and babysit to have dating money are far more selective in who they spend it on.
I believe that we were created for community and building healthy relationships make for better communities. Families are our first communities and they should protect us and prepare us for what is to come.
- Don't be hands off with your children's significant others. Invite them to dinner, get to know them. Often the most obnoxious choices will be eliminated simply by seeing them in the context of the family community.
- Notice how your child's relationship mimics or digresses from your own relationships. This can be a place to open discussion if you have concerns.
- Pray that God will bring a worthy match for your child. A life partner is truly a gift from God.
- Make sure your child is aware of what he or she is worth, in your eyes, and in God's eyes. He or she is wonderfully made!
And lastly - it's easier to sleep in the kid's bed until they get home than to wait up for them. God bless you on this phase of the parental journey. Amen.