Knowing when your Child is Ready to Date
Q: My 14-year-old thinks she is ready to start dating a boy she knows. How can I tell if she’s ready?
A: Developmentally, the average age for starting to date is 14 to 15. It is up to you to decide if your daughter is ready. It might help to know the average length of these relationships. Many early relationships do not last long, but they can be the basis for developing good relationships in the future. In fact, most relationships for 12 to 15 year olds last less than two months, whereas the average relationship for teens 16 and older is over two years.
What does your daughter say are the reasons she feels ready to start dating? As you listen to her, listen for some of the following things that we all learn from being in a relationship:
• How to cooperate with friends.
• How to make good decisions for herself.
• How to be thoughtful of others’ feelings.
• How to show independence and caring.
• How to give and take fairly.
• How to evaluate friendships that are healthy and unhealthy.
• How to listen carefully.
• How to choose whether or not to be close to another person.
You want to create a firm base for you and your daughter to be able to talk about all of her relationships as she starts this phase of life. Make sure you focus on listening more than telling and send a strong message that you will be there for her no matter what happens in the relationships.
Part of this conversation will include your house rules regarding dating, which may include curfew, knowing what the evening plans include, pre-approval for what is planned, etc. Remember, what you set for her applies to other siblings at the same age in the household. What you allow at 17 is very different from 14. What you allow for a first date is different than what you allow for a long relationship.
Another part of the conversation will include sharing information and your values regarding relationships. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, around 50 percent of students have had sexual intercourse by the end of high school. I hope you have already talked about sex with your daughter. You probably already know her values about her sexuality. Let her know your beliefs and that you support her ability to set limits with others. If you need additional information, a good resource to refer your daughter to is the Planned Parenthood teen website.
As she begins dating, be aware of the possible risks from bad relationships. Signs that she is dating someone who is a negative influence include:
• School problems with grades and attendance.
• Drug use.
• Law violations.
• Poor self-concept as result of being hurt or embarrassed by boyfriend.
• Sexual activity, or
• Being pushed, slapped or hit.
Often, dating starts as being part of a group, moves to hanging out with a friend, and then goes to having special feelings toward one individual. Has your daughter had these experiences? Has she seen healthy relationships amongst her family and friends?
If she hasn’t, make sure she knows what good relationships look like by talking with her about relationships in TV shows, movies, or other couples and families she knows. You can point out healthy relationships and communication when you see it, as well as mean-spirited relationships and disrespect.
You want your daughter to know how to treat others as well as how she should be treated. Try to be aware of whether or not your daughter feels pressured to date. Make sure she knows it is OK not to date.
If she is in a relationship that becomes more affectionate, affection can be sexually arousing, intensifying emotion, overruling judgment, and causing her to forget about consequences. It is useful to help your daughter have her own framework for making a choice about her sexual readiness before she is in this emotional position.
She might ask herself, “If I have sex with this person, what emotional and physical consequences might I face, and are they worth the risks that I am taking?” Help her consider that love means caring enough to keep herself and her partner free of the emotional and physical consequences of sex.
If you feel she is ready to date, let her know that the dating conversation is just starting. You want to make sure she knows how to evaluate a relationship. We will tackle that next month.
- There Are No Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter by Laura J. Buddenberg and Kathleen M. McGee
- The Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating: Real-World Advice on Guys, Girls, Growing Up, and Getting Along by Annie Fox and Annie Fox (Author)
- Teens and Dating: Tips for Parents and Professionals by Karen Fogarty