Dating is an opportunity for socializing, for learning about the opposite sex and for gaining experience in relating, so that someday when a teen becomes an adult, he or she can make a good decision about choosing a partner. Here are ways to talk with teens about dating.
Prepare in advance. Educate yourself. Dating protocols and expectations change from decade to decade. Just as dating in the ’60s and ’70s was different from dating in the ’80s and ’90s, dating in the 21st century has changed since you were a teen. Do your research by listening to what the teens are interested in and talking about. Know the information they are getting by watching the shows they watch and reading the magazines they read. Mostly teens are interested in having fun, being with friends and gaining confidence around the opposite sex.
State the purpose. The purpose of dating is socializing, having fun, and learning about each other. Not all girls think alike and act alike; not all boys think and act alike. Dating and socializing gives teens the opportunity to experience the differences. State this over and over again. Dating is not about choosing a partner; it’s about learning what kind of a partner you would like someday.
Emphasize group activities. Teens often like to hang out in groups with peers. The advantages of group outings are that teens have the opportunity to develop a variety of friendships. On group outings the focus is friendship, not romance.
Talk about the downside of group activities. Peer pressure can be stronger when kids are hanging out together. It may be harder to say “no” if everyone is participating. On the other hand, the group norm may keep everyone in line. Be informed about what type of group your teen is hanging out with. Suggest they team up with a friend who they can leave with if they don’t feel comfortable in the group.
Share experiences. By telling stories both positive and negative about your own dating experiences, you are opening up the subject in a non-threatening way. Teens like hearing about the ups and downs that parents dealt with. Did you go to the prom? What was the worst date? How about blind dates? Do you wish you would have dated more?
Be aware of the differences between boys and girls. Girls often worry about not having a boyfriend. Reassure them in a round about way, “Honey, the more boys you know as friends, the better you’ll recognize the right one when he comes along later.” Encourage girls to make friends with boys rather than picking just one boyfriend. Boys often worry that they are not tall enough or strong enough. Assure them that they are great. Encourage them to make friends. Don’t push or tease about romance. This is a sensitive subject, so be respectful.
Tell teens: It is OK to change your mind about a person as you get to know him or her. The “nice” guy might turn out to be a total jerk, or the “quiet” girl might be the one who is so much fun to be with. Kids feel lots of rejection when it comes to dating. Let them know that rejection is part of dating, but it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with them.
Hold talks over hamburgers. Talks about sensitive subjects go smoother when taking place out of the house and over food. Remember, both boys and girls need good information and good food. Do not poke fun or criticize. Teen feelings are delicate.
Turn off lectures. Strive for open, exciting, ongoing conversations. Inquire. If you make the conversations upbeat, the kids will keep listening. If you scold and warn, they will roll their eyes and dismiss you as old fashioned.
Be subtle. Ask how they will handle possible scenarios, but be subtle about it. “Honey, I was wondering how you and your friends might handle a party with older kids drinking?” The purpose of these conversations is to gather information about what the kids need to know.
Teach the power of “no” and “yes.” “No” and “yes” are the two most important words. We want to empower our teens to say “no” to what they don’t want so that they can say “yes” to what they do want. Give them opportunities for saying “yes” and “no” as often as possible, even if it means practicing saying “no” to you.