My friend’s 13-year-old son has a girlfriend. Many would think he is too young to be dating. It is natural for a child to be interested in someone of the opposite sex as a friend.
Teens are curious about relationships. They want to know about dating and boy-girl relationships. As they are developing sexually, they are naturally interested to know what it is like to be intimate with another person.
The teenage years is a time of self-awareness. They build up self-confidence and learn to interact with others in a more mature manner.
In relationships, teens learn to be assertive as well as to make decisions. This is the stage of learning about respect and responsibilities.
Many young teens get into social experimentation without much preparation. Unfortunately, they are bombarded by negative ideas from the media. They pick up ideas about dating from movies and romantic novels. Many have distorted facts about what they do when they date.
Parents must be prepared to talk to their teens about dating and relationships. It is not the time to say “don’t” but to use more “dos”.
Teens are at the age when they will try to do their own thing. The more they are controlled by parental rules, the more they will step out of the boundaries.
They are at the transition stage from immaturity to maturity. They can act independently, yet they still lack experience and knowledge of the world.
Parents need to provide them with balance and perspective. They should help their teens to be grown-ups by initiating them into adulthood.
Parents are children’s best role-models. Your relationship with your spouse has to be a positive example for your child to follow. Show them how you respect one another and work things out as equal partners.
Your actions speak louder than words. Empower your teens to think for themselves and follow their instincts. Instead of telling them repeatedly what they should or should not do, help them develop judgment to enable them to do the right thing.
Take time to listen to your teen tell you about his concerns and insecurities. Don’t be too quick to offer your opinions but help him explore various solutions based on his values.
Keep an open mind when your teenager talks to you about sex. Talk about the consequences of certain decisions and evaluate situations that others have found themselves in.
Share your ideas and values in discussions. Find out what your teen thinks about the consequences that befall those who act irresponsibly and recklessly. Your teen will learn to weigh the pros and cons from these conversations with you.
Parents fare better when they can discuss the topic of sex without any bias. One teacher conveyed her fears that children may experiment with sex when we talk about personal safety and sexuality.
But I am more concerned when parents and teachers do not help children understand their sexuality by giving them the correct facts. They may experiment with ideas they pick up from the Internet and other forms of media.
Boys need to know that having sex does not turn them into men, while girls need to know that having sex is not cool under duress. Going dating calls for respect for the other person and being responsible enough to behave appropriately.
If teens are dating, they need to know the code of conduct for being in a relationship. Set ground rules on dating. Stand firm on what is right. State clearly your expectations and listen to what your teen has to say.
If the rules are set by both parent and child, chances are, your teen will abide by them. Be willing to negotiate and discuss things over with your child. The idea of dating is about learning more about the other person and sharing happy moments together.
Discuss ways your child can have his privacy when he is able to keep to the ground rules responsibly. Parents need to be kept informed of the goings-on in their children’s lives. Offer to host group dates at home so you can get to know your child’s friends better.
Ruth Liew is an expert in early childhood education, child development, parenting, and child care. She is also an author and a columnist.