I came to parenting the way most of us do – knowing nothing and trying to learn everything.- Mayim Balik
The teen years. You just start to feel like you’re settling into this parenting thing, and then all the rules change. Overnight, it becomes a balancing act of keeping your kids safe while still allowing them enough independence to learn, grow and become fully-functioning adults.
Sometimes it feels like things are moving a mile a minute, and you wish life would just slow down. But that’s not how it works… for them, or for you. This is when your children get a crash course in the dynamics of relationships, and what it takes to maintain (or destroy) them.
I think that’s why a lot of parents agonize over “dating policies” for their children. For good or ill, we know that the romantic entanglements of youth provide lessons they’ll carry over into adulthood, and we want so desperately to provide the right guidance.
It’s a subject that comes up again and again- in fact, a friend asked me to weigh in on her rules just this week. She’d like to see a “just friends” period before dating. And she’s asking… is six months “reasonable”?
First off, let me say that she’s smart to be thinking about this now. She has two beautiful girls beginning high school this year, and let me tell you, it’s going to become a legitimate topic of discussion much sooner than she’d probably like.
Now, do I think this is a realistic expectation?
Well, yes and no. If your child is a younger teen, I certainly think it’s appropriate to have a “no dating” rule, or to watch things closely if they move from a friendship into a relationship. And those things are relatively easy to do with a kid who still relies heavily on you for their day to day needs. But I’m not going to lie, I think this gets a whole lot dicier as kids get older. I guess it comes down to how much autonomy you’re willing to give your children, and what you feel is necessary to form and nurture healthy relationships.
I have some friends who follow the idea of Biblical courtship with their children and monitor any relationship very closely. Others have drawn up strict dating “contracts” with their kids but stay relatively uninvolved otherwise. I also have friends who examine things on a case-by-case basis and put guidelines in place as they go… and others who run with a “they’ll figure it out” philosophy.
Here’s the way it happened in my house: we had a “no dating until you’re 16” policy for my daughter which went completely uncontested. Wow! Fantastic parenting, right? Well…tell the truth and shame the devil… that’s probably because we never had to actually enforce it. My daughter was home-schooled, family-centered, and completely uninterested in dating before then anyway.
When she turned 16, things changed. She got a driver’s license, a job, and a new group of friends. Unfamiliar people started popping up at our house, and we realized that this whole “policy” had suddenly become invalid- we had to develop additional guidelines.
So, we came up with some dating “commandments”:
- Know your worth. Pay attention to how someone treats you, and don’t accept mistreatment of any kind. Learn to recognize red flags. *
- Give yourself time to get to know someone. Drive your own car. Meet up in groups, and in public. Don’t spend any time alone with someone until you feel very comfortable with them. If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.
- Communicate. Talk to, text, and phone your parents constantly. Let us know who you’re with, and where. Always. (Also, don’t bother dating anyone who isn’t fine with this, because they also won’t like the fact that we’ll expect THEM to hang out and communicate with us, too.)
That’s it. That’s what we did. It’s paired with A LOT of conversation, and so far, it’s been successful. We don’t have a curfew at our house. We haven’t needed it, because she’s been self-regulating from the start. She’s attending high school and college in a dual-enrollment program while working 25-30 hours per week, and she’s had to learn to be smart about how she allocates her time.
Our second child might need a different set of rules. Right now it’s looking pretty good, because he considers himself a social hermit. But things change. Oh, yes, they certainly do.
So we make it up as we go.
Is it a perfect system? No. But I like to think it’s reasonable.
* Establish the definition of abuse with your kids- it comes in many different forms. Be candid in the discussion of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Explain how things like controlling behaviors and jealousy are not an expression of love… and why.