Watching your child grow up can be exciting, rewarding, challenging, and let’s face it…downright terrifying. As they enter their teen years, there are so many decisions they need to make and as a parent you desperately want them to make healthy ones!
My oldest daughter is about to turn 16, and in our home it’s quite the milestone birthday. Not only because she will be driving soon, but we also have a family rule that when our children turn 16 they can date. We’ve heard many reactions about our choice. Some parents praise us for encouraging our children to wait, and others berate thinking it’s silly.
“What? That’s crazy and unrealistic!”
In a world where kids seem to be growing up faster than ever, and where teens are becoming sexually active at earlier ages, we feel it’s a good decision for our family.
Let’s face it, kids are immature, and they should be because they’re kids. Their tween and teen years are a time for learning and growth, for making mistakes and learning from them, and for giving us grey hairs! The early teen years are challenging enough without throwing in “relationship issues”. The point of dating is typically to find a partner and companion, someone to spend time with who has similar dreams and goals as you. Ultimately, the act of dating leads to a serious relationship, which can lead to marriage and creating a family. Why then are we allowing and even encouraging youth to pair off at ages as early as 11 and 12? Are children at this age emotionally mature enough to handle the pressures and expectations associated with dating?
My girls come home all the time with stories of their friends “going out” or dating. Most parents will say it’s harmless. It’s just puppy love! In many cases that is true, and after all, crushes are completely normal at this age. We all had them! Our job as parents is to help our kids navigate through these new feelings and steer them in a safe direction. The problem is, it’s very easy for these kids to get lost on this journey.
Some many of these young kids become so emotionally invested in someone, that when the inevitable break up happens (and it will) they are completely and painfully crushed. Some may say “but that’s normal too”, right? We’ve all been heartbroken in our teen years. It’s a rite of passage. But how about when dating leads to some of these kids become physically intimate? They give away more of themselves than they ever should because they are trying to emulate what they see in adult relationships.
One of my daughter’s friends lost her virginity at 14. Was that young man committed to her? In her eyes, yes, because they were boyfriend/girlfriend. The reality? Of course not, because they’re kids! They broke up not long after, and he is now on to the next girl. That decision to give herself away at such a young age is now shaping and could possibly redefine her future. Having crushes is absolutely normal at this age, but encouraging adult-like relationships is not only premature, it can be harmful both physically and emotionally. Not to mention extremely distracting for youth who should be focusing on school work, growth in academics, sports, hobbies and other interests. I want to let my daughter grow up before she’s in a grown-up relationship.
Ok, so why 16? Do I feel like my child is emotionally ready at 16 to now handle the emotional pressures of dating? Well, yes and no. “Dating” in our home also comes with a specific definition and guidelines. When our children turn 16, dating is acceptable in group situations only. We encourage group dates in public places that will allow them to get to know friends of the opposite sex in a safe setting. Dances, bowling, sports events, chaperoned parties, etc. would all be appropriate situations. We don’t encourage “pairing off” at this age, or becoming too serious with one person. Serious one-on-one relationships for teenagers can and usually will lead to intimacy…because, hormones. Having the safe sex talk isn’t enough, because it’s not just about keeping their young bodies safe. Providing guidelines for dating is about safe guarding their hearts and their well being so that we raise emotionally healthy adults. It’s a conversation we should be having before middle school when peer pressure pushes relationships on our kids, and kids are led to believe that self worth is based on whether or not someone has a boyfriend/girlfriend… We need to teach them that it’s important to know and love themselves before they can love another.
We are encouraging our daughter to steer away from serious relationships at this age, and to date/friend many young men in high school. This way she can learn characteristics she likes/doesn’t like and learn from these friendships, so that one day when she is emotionally mature enough to handle a serious relationship, hopefully she will choose wisely and have a healthy one.
I strongly feel that as parents we are protectors and teachers. We worry so much about the dangers of social media, and staying out late, about unprotected sex and the safety of our schools. Shouldn’t we be just as diligent about protecting our child’s heart and emotional well being? Giving them guidelines on when and how to date gives them an added safety net they desperately need at this age, and lets them know we care and that we are invested in their lives.
How do you handle dating with your kids? What have your experiences been? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.