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How to Have the Dating Talk

For generations, the dating talk with parents has been a rite of passage for young people. It's a time when parents start conversations about dating with their children to help them to navigate this new chapter in their lives. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, most kids start thinking about dating around the ages of 12 to 13, but don't actually start dating until around ages 15 to 16. Like all milestones in life, every child is different and there is not a magic age when all kids are ready to date.

All kids have crushes, but dating is new territory. To gauge if your child might be ready to date, it's important to consider these three things:

  • Can they manage their emotions?
  • Do they accept responsibility?
  • Are they comfortable advocating for themselves?

With pre-teens, spending time with the opposite sex should start very casually – like dipping a toe in the water. At this age, group dates, texting or just hanging out with a special friend are all appropriate. It's important to set rules with your kids and teach boundaries to ensure that they are safe. Boundaries, including emotional, physical, psychological and sexual must be set. It's easy to assume that your kids know all about boundaries, but often they don't and that's why parental involvement is imperative.

It's important for your kids to recognize the components of a healthy relationship including:

  • Trust – this must be earned.
  • Respect – this must be given and received.
  • Time – a good relationship can't be rushed; it takes time to really get to know someone.

Be sure to watch your kids for the red flags of an unhealthy relationship, too. Tell-tales signs include isolation, not talking and a change in sleep patterns. If this occurs, be supportive and non-judgmental, focus on teaching healthy alternative behaviors to use in place of unhealthy behaviors and avoid focusing on the other person.

Above all, parents need to be open and supportive of their kids and always strive to keep the lines of communication about dating and relationships open. Encourage your kids to know and value their worth and to recognize that dating is all part of growing up. The focus should always remain on the friendships made along the way.