Is Your Teenager Too Young to Date?

Figuring out the right age to allow your teen to start dating is a challenge for any parent. Our teen behaviors expert Sarah Brown weighs in on this common question, and shares helpful advice regarding when the best time is to give the green light to dating.

Question: My daughter is 12 years old and is already showing an interest in boys. What should I do if she wants to begin to date?

 

Answer: While it's OK and perfectly normal to be interested in boys at 12 years old, most adolescents are too young to date—regardless of whether their friends at school might be doing so already.

So, what should you do? Use these five tips to help support your child and give them the tools they need to develop healthy, age-appropriate relationships now. Establishing some simple guidelines now will help your tween grow into a teen that practices safe and healthy dating practices later, when they’re old enough to venture out on a date.

  • Opt for group outings: Group activities among young people are fine and often fun, but allowing teens to begin steady, one-on-one dating much before age 16 can lead to trouble. So, encourage group get-togethers (and talk with your child about how to voice his or her concerns to peers if they end up in an uncomfortable situation.) Invite your tween to host a movie party or backyard get-together with friends. Suggest a bowling outing. Or encourage kids to attend a middle school or high school football game together.
     
  • Be proactive. Talk about this issue and your family’s rules before your child expresses an interest in dating. The conversation doesn’t need to be complex or lengthy. Simply mentioning that it is normal for your son or daughter to be experiencing feelings for a special someone as a tween is A-OK. And that when they’re older, dating may be something they would like to explore. Talk about what your dating guidelines will be—such as curfews, driving rules, and so on.  Knowing what you expect now will help your child be better prepared when dating age arrives.
     
  • Be cognizant of age differences. Young women are sometimes drawn to older boys when it comes to teen dating. Young women mature much more quickly both emotionally and physically than young men, too, which contributes to the attraction to older boys. Additionally, upper classman may have more money to spend and a driver’s license (and more freedom), too.
     
  • Create an open dialogue. If you’re uncomfortable discussing relationships with your tween, there are multiple ways to break the ice. A good way to get a conversation started is to invite your young adult­ to write down questions in a shared notebook. Tip: You can start! Ask a question or share a thought in a notebook, and tuck it under your child’s pillow or a book on their bedside table (or other private spot). When you say goodnight, invite them to respond and then put the notebook on your bedside table the next day. This can be a great way to begin an ongoing conversation about difficult subjects with your adolescent.
     
  • Empower your tween or teen to recognize and make healthy choices. Your growing adolescent should start taking a leadership role in his or her own wellbeing, and now is the perfect the time to teach him or her about making healthy choices in all aspects of life, including sexual and physical wellbeing. It doesn’t hurt to have a conversation with your child and his or her pediatrician to learn more about what you can do now to prevent diabetes, heart disease, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Be sure to ask about other things your kids can do to ensure they’re making healthy decisions throughout their dating years, as well.

Bottom line: Talk to your child. Establishing open, two-way lines of communication with your tween now paves the way for a healthy relationship with your growing teen later.

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