Dating for Young Teens
As parents of young teenagers, we wake up each day dreading the anticipation of such questions as, "Can I go to a rock concert tonight with a new friend I just met today? Her uncle's neighbor will keep an eye on us – maybe."
There's also the infamous, "When can I learn how to drive?" or even worse, "Susan got her driver's license today and wants to drive me to the mall. Can I go?" My solution to a question like that is, "You can go if you cleaned your room last night." A quick and easy way to say "no" without being pegged as the bad guy or uncool.
And yes, there is a question worse than, "Can I have an all-night party at our house?" That question is: "Can I go on a date?"
Dating Definitions, Guidelines and Roadblocks
Chances are that when a person who recently reached the teenage years uses the word "date" in a sentence, he is not referring to the fruit that grows high atop tall, thin trees in Palm Springs, California. He is referring to a social situation with a member of the opposite sex sans parental supervision.
Views on dating vary from one parent to another. Some parents will allow dating at a younger age than other parents. Limitations on the age of the dating candidate may be pre-determined, too. And those guidelines may or may not be consistent with the ones parents grew up with.
What happens when a teen wants to spend time with a special member of the opposite gender, but you feel he's underage? Yesterday you packed away the Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars for good, and today your teen wants to trade in those toys for dinner and a movie for two. The interest is there, but your teen's age and your guidelines are a dual roadblock.
The More the Merrier
Nancy Klotzsche of Lake Arrowhead, California feels that 16 is an acceptable age to begin dating. She has two teenagers under the age of 16 who are not yet allowed to date, but can invite members of the opposite sex to family outings.
"Last summer my son invited a girl to spend the day at the beach with our family," Nancy says. "I was present, yet I gave them space."
Nancy also allows her young teens to participate in group events as an alternative to dating. A group of boys and girls gathering together for a movie or party is a common pre-dating activity. However, she is comfortable with the party situation only if she knows the parents of the teen having the party, or a friend, can act as a reference. Since Nancy lives in a small town, it's likely that she would know the other parent or someone who does – a big advantage to living in a small town with no street lights nor door-to-door mail delivery.
Nancy adds, "Since my teens can't drive yet, I have control of where they go and who they see."
Healthy Male-Female Relationships
Most likely, a teen's first few crushes will come and go as fast as the latest box office hit. A relationship between a young couple is often a casual one, and there shouldn't be any emphasis on a long-term commitment. November is not the time to discuss Easter plans together with two teens. Your savings account interest should be applied toward college tuition, not wedding bells.
Janice Selekman D.N.Sc., R.N., professor and chair for the department of nursing at the University of Delaware, has advice for parents of teens ready to develop a male/female relationship.
"American parents have lost their energy and creativity in developing options for preteens and teens," Selekman says. "Healthy male-female relationships need to be promoted. These can include outings to a science museum or a shopping center where the teens are given a map, an agenda or goal and a meeting point and time."
Selekman says there's no problem with the rest of the family being present at the same facility where the outing is taking place. Other possible activities include baking cookies, car washing, taking nature walks and attending sporting events.
"None of these activities focus on 'sex,' which is the real fear of parents," Selekman says. "Yet they all focus on healthy communication, learning, helping others and enjoying each other's company. They promote respect for others and responsibility for self. These are all the traits that parents are trying to foster in their growing children."