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Love 101: Is your teen ready to date?

We all remember our first crush. Intense emotions that often turned complicated, awkward and embarrassing. Even though today's teens live in a tech-savvy world that is 180 degrees different than past generations, many things remain the same.

Hormones rage when puberty begins, and teens are curious and want to experiment with love. The biggest question many parents ask me is, "How do I know when my teen is ready for all this?"

There is no known appropriate age for dating. Instead, focus more on your teen's maturity level, (including their level of responsibility around the house or at school), their ability to communicate and reason, their judgment skills and their level of impulsiveness.

Brain development and social skills do matter and everyone learns and grows at different rates. If your teen is ready to date, you may notice they:

  • begin to have opposite sex friends
  • perhaps begin to question their sexual preference
  • start to hang out in packs more often
  • talk or text on the phone more with people they like 

Dating helps kids learn who they are and what they want in a future partner (and what they don't want). This takes time and practice and you are their coach. Remember, it's a natural developmental process and should be a very healthy one.

Try hard not to judge, tease or ridicule your teenager when they start this process as shame and guilt can negatively impact their self-esteem down the road. 

Here are a few questions to ask your teen before they start to date:

  1. Do you know the family morals and values around dating and sex? Talk about what you expect and encourage continued dialogue if you differ. Some families make "Dating Contracts" so everyone is on the same page about what is acceptable and what is not.
  2. What qualities do you think you'd like in a boyfriend/girlfriend and why? Have them discuss this in detail.
  3. Talk about boundaries. Do you know where to draw the line emotionally, physically, sexually with someone else? And more importantly, HOW would they do this in real time? Practice this. It may seem silly at first, but it could really help them in a tough situation.
  4. With more than 1 in 3 teens reporting that they experienced violence while dating (CDC results from an online survey conducted in 2011 and 2012), asking your teen about what they think would constitute violence in a relationship is extremely important. How would you manage this? It's easy to talk about, but much harder to deal with when they "love" someone.

Additionally, if your teen is already on social media, monitor their communication. What do they say and how do they say it? It's scary to trust your child, which is why keeping the lines of communication open is important.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way. Trust your gut as the parent who knows them best. Guide them along this crazy journey so that the outcome is a healthy and happy existence with others in whatever manner feels right for them.


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