The Teen Dating Game

Learn why it's important to establish guidelines before your teen begins the dating game!


Although an increased interest in the opposite sex is a natural and normal part of adolescence, don't be fooled into believing that sexual relations between teens is as well.

Despite all the popular media accounts of rampant sex among teenagers, teen sex is neither inevitable nor desirable. One of your jobs as parent is to communicate clearly and unequivocally that you think that teenagers having sex is wrong. If you do, your teen will be much less likely to engage in sexual activity than if you give a fuzzier "I'm not going to tell you what to do" message.

According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Risk Behavior, the largest study of its kind ever undertaken, youth who perceive their parents as giving them a clear message that abstinence from sex is the expected behavior during adolescence were the most likely to delay the onset of sexual activity, and avoid becoming pregnant as a teenager.

If you want your teen to avoid having sex while an adolescent, discourage early dating.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, dating should be discouraged, if not prohibited, until your teen is 16 years old, and even then dating should occur in groups and in venues that are well supervised. Unless, that is, you have an overwhelming desire to be called "Grandma" or "Grandpa" real soon.

Take your teen's peer relationships and anxieties seriously. Peer relationships are important for developing a host of positive qualities in your teen.

At the same time, don't surrender your teen to his or her peers. Deviant peer groups can cause all sorts of difficulties. In fact, research shows that the more time teenagers spend interacting with their parents, the less likely they are to be influenced by peers -- at least on the big stuff, like using drugs, drinking, driving recklessly, and having sex.

If you want your teen's behavior to reflect your values and beliefs, make sure you spend time with your teen. Living with a teenager may at times be difficult, but being a teenager is even harder. Their task is to achieve a healthy sense of self-identity while avoiding the pitfalls of high-risk adolescent behavior. Doing so requires good peer relationships, but also avoiding deviant peer groups. It also means exploring the world of romantic interests while avoiding the world of teenage parenthood.

Adolescence is the journey your children must go through in order to get to adulthood. To get there, teens must traverse a great deal of uncharted, and often turbulent, territory. You can't make that journey for them. But you can offer shelter when it storms.

Keep an eye on your teenagers. You don't need to be a spy. But you do need to monitor their behavior. Why? Researchers have found that poor parental monitoring is one of the most potent predictors of adolescent involvement in virtually any problem behavior.

In other words, if you don't watch now...you will have to watch out for what follows! Indeed, the evidence suggests that parents endanger their teens' development when they abdicate their responsibility to attend to and participate in the lives of their kids.

Here are some tips for effectively monitoring your teens:

1. Become familiar with their entertainment. Find out what they like to watch and listen to, and try to understand why.

2. Set a family standard. Be clear about what's acceptable and what's not.

3. Set a good example. Make good entertainment choices yourself. Apologize to your teenager if you find yourself engaging in hypocritical behavior.

4. Get to know your teenager's friends -- by name. This will impress your teenager while at the same time assuring your teen that you are keeping a watchful eye over their peer relationships and activities.

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