Teenage dating can be confusing for parents. Your child might not even wait for the teenage years before they ask you if they can “go out” with someone. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids start dating at an average age of 12 and a half for girls and 13 and a half for boys.
Every teen — or preteen — is different, though, and your child might be ready sooner or later than their peers.
Talking to Your Teen About Dating
If your child has started to bring up dating, start by figuring out what they mean by “dating.” When a 12- or 13-year-old talks about a budding relationship with someone, they might mean anything from texting back and forth with a crush to a group movie outing including the crush and other friends.
Younger teens are more likely to date in a cluster, rather than one-on-one. It’s part of the natural transition from same-gender social groups to coed groups and finally to one-on-one dating. Co-ed groups let kids experiment with dating behaviors in a safer setting with less pressure.
Talk to your teen or preteen about what dating or going out entails in their friend group. You need to know what they want to do before you decide whether you’re comfortable with it.
When Is Your Teen Ready to Date “Solo”?
Eventually, teens are ready to make the move and start going on what an adult would recognize as a date. Some pediatricians suggest that kids wait until they’re 16 to start this kind of one-on-one dating.
That’s a good place to start the discussion, but every kid is different. Some are more emotionally mature than others. Some teens come from communities and families where one-on-one dating starts earlier or later.
The best thing is to talk about one-on-one dating before it becomes a possibility. If your 13-year-old is “hanging out” with someone — teen talk for casual dating without a commitment — it’s not too early to start talking about dating rules.
Setting the Rules
Don’t feel like if you set rules about dating, you’re infringing on your teen’s independence. Research has shown many times that teens thrive when loving parents set and enforce clear limits.
Experts say that it’s best to set rules as a family — with your teen’s involvement. Talk about what your family thinks is the right age to start dating one-on-one and why. Ask your teen if they feel ready to date.
Also, take this time to talk about other rules around your teen dating. That includes what kinds of places the couple can go and what time you need your teen to be home. Keep in mind that some counties have curfews for minors, and those curfews can vary based on age and whether it’s a school night.
Always talk with your teen about why the rules are what they are. This tells them that you believe in their ability to make responsible, informed decisions.
Keeping Your Teen Safe
Parents naturally hope that the worst a teen will experience in the dating scene is temporary heartbreak, but that’s not always the case.
Dating violence. Violence in teen dating relationships is more common than many people know.
- 33% of American teenagers experience sexual, physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a date
- 1.5 million high schoolers reported suffering physical harm by a romantic partner within a year
- 25% of high school girls in the US have experienced physical or sexual abuse
Only a third of teens in abusive relationships tell someone about the violence. Parents need to watch out for warning signs. Watch out for signs that your teen’s partner:
- Tries to control their friendships and activities
- Insults them or puts them down
- Gets angry easily
Dating abuse is confusing and scary for anyone, but teens haven’t had much experience with relationships and might not know what a healthy relationship looks like.
Teens might not know how to bring up possible dating abuse to an adult. If you’re worried, ask your teen if they’re being hurt or if they feel safe. It can open an important discussion. No matter what’s going on with your teen’s relationships, take their feelings seriously. You may know as an adult that young love doesn’t last, but it can mean a lot to your child.
Even if your teen starts letting their studying slip and you have to step in to limit the number of dates per week, don’t dismiss it as “just” a teen romance. This person is extremely important to your child.
And if someone does break your teen’s heart — it’s likely to happen, sooner or later — don’t minimize their pain. Tell them you know how much they hurt and gently tell them that time will help. If you experienced teen heartbreak, you can empathize by sharing your story.
In time, your teen will move on to the next most important thing, and the cycle begins again.