Real Talk

When Parents Should Talk to Their Teens About Dating

The studies have weighed in and they all agree: it’s not easy for us to talk to our teens about dating!

Watching our teens jump into the dating scene can feel like a complex affair, especially for parents. It’s when we realize that our kids are growing up and sometimes, it can feel like they are growing away from us. They start not telling us things and at times when things escalate at home, they say that their current partners understand them better than we can (although, we may have to accept that to a certain degree.)

Especially during Valentine’s Day, our teen’s priorities may shift a bit. And if we don’t ever talk to them about it, our confused teen may suddenly start pouring through a young adult romance novel or a fanfiction for dating advice! Trust us when we say that’s probably the last place they should ever look!

So when is the best time to talk to our teens about dating?

Teens and Dating: Does this happen to all teens?

Unfortunately, there is no best time because there’s no specific age when teens start thinking about dating. Some start during the transition of tween to teen phase but in Asian cultures, talks of dating happen later down the road because of teens are juggling school and the extra-curricular activities we put them in like sports, piano lessons, and the like (Lau, Markham, Lin, Flores, and Chacko, 2009).

Also, because in most Asian cultures, dating leads to marriage thus making it awkward to talk about casually and parents often preferring to delay talking about it (Reeb, 2009; Allison, 2016).

Seeing our teens dating can also feel so sudden but according to psychoanalyst Erick Erickson, it’s part of the typical lifespan. In his Theory of Psychosocial Development, teens go through at least two mental conflicts: Identity vs. Confusion and Intimacy vs. Isolation. And during these conflicts, teens will feel like they’re caught in an unseen tug-of-war between us and their friends (Adams and Williams, 2011).

But the common factor between the two mental clashes is that they start caring about what people think. They’re at an age where they’re finding out who they are which indirectly decides what kind of people they should go with and the people they’d like to date.

Funny part is, they do have an idea what dating is supposed to be like!

Remember those moments we had as parents when our kids do something and we’re all, “I didn’t teach them that!”? It happens with teens too! While we don’t recall ever sitting them down to talk about dating, they have an idea because of our own relationships. What they’ve witnessed in our relationship growing up serves as their foundation for what they think is “normal” in a relationship (Reeb, 2009; Tharp, Burton, Freire, Hall, Harrier, Latzman, Luo, Niolon, Ramirez, and Vagi, 2011; Allison, 2016).

But we’re not the only ones showing them what dating looks like. Social media and pop culture play a big role too, especially with the many romance novels, series, TV dramas pouring out of Netflix and other streaming sites! Especially because of the pandemic cutting off physical contact, most dating interactions are online which makes it harder to track what many call dating violence (Lykens, Pilloton, Silva, Schlamm, Wilburn and Pence, 2019; Andrade, Sampaio, Donard, and Moraes, 2023).

What is Dating Violence?

Dating violence is any form of violence and abuse — whether emotional, physical, sexual and verbal — that happens between two people in a dating relationship (Dick, McCauley, Jones, Tandredi, Goldstein, Blackburn, Monasterio, James, Silverman, and Miller, 2014; Reed, Tolman, and Ward, 2017; Andrade, et. al, 2023). This also happens online being a form of cyberbullying when the teens start sending harassing messages and unwaranted photos to one another (Day, 2010).

But in the Philippines, teens do want advice from their parents about dating!

Our teens may grumble and mutter when we pull them aside to talk about dating but, they do look for our advice (de Irala, Osorio, del Burgo, Belen, de Guzman, Calatrava, Torralba, 2009). Unfortunately, what makes it hard is when both sides end up getting frustrated with one another. We’re trying to cope with letting them go and because of that, sometimes, we don’t answer their questions.

That leaves our teen hanging which probably frustrates them too. So, they go to their friends instead for dating advice. However, there are cases wherein teens know that their own peers are not the best people to ask. Instead, they consult forums like Tumblr, Reddit, and sometimes Google to solve their dating dilemmas, especially the emotion-related ones.

There will never be the “perfect” time to talk to our teens about dating!

Some kids got it early especially when they come from a co-parenting set up because both parties needed to sit down and talk to them about it. Others reach their twenties first before talking about dating with their parents. But talking to them about it does lessen the dating disasters. Besides, what’s a few minutes of awkwardness of talking about dating compared to having frequent fights at home for the next couple of years because we didn’t talk with our teens about it?

They may shoot us a few horrified, and dirty looks when we do sit down with them about it. But the most important part is letting them know that we just don’t want them to get hurt. And to make talking about things easier, add some humor. It’ll make everyone less tense.

References

Adams, H. L., & Williams, L. R. (2011). Advice from teens to teens about dating: Implications for healthy relationships. Children and Youth Services Review33(2), 254-264.

Andrade, T. A., Sampaio, M. A., Donard, V., & Moraes, P. M. (2023). Digital violence in teen dating: an ecological engagement methodology. Revista Brasileira de Saúde Materno Infantil23, e20230049.

Allison, R. (2016). Family influences on hooking up and dating among emerging adults. Sexuality & Culture20, 446-463.

Day, T. (2010). The New Digital Dating Behavior-Sexting: Teens’ Explicit Love Letters: Criminal Justice or Civil Liability. Hastings Comm. & Ent. LJ33, 69.

de Irala, J., Osorio, A., del Burgo, C. L., Belen, V. A., de Guzman, F. O., Calatrava, M. D. C., & Torralba, A. N. (2009). Relationships, love and sexuality: what the Filipino teens think and feel. BMC Public Health9(1), 1-13.

Dick, R. N., McCauley, H. L., Jones, K. A., Tancredi, D. J., Goldstein, S., Blackburn, S., Monasterio, E., James, L., Silverman, J. G., & Miller, E. (2014). Cyber dating abuse among teens using school-based health centers. Pediatrics134(6), e1560-e1567.

Helm, S., Baker, C. K., Berlin, J., & Kimura, S. (2017). Getting in, being in, staying in, and getting out: Adolescents’ descriptions of dating and dating violence. Youth & Society49(3), 318-340.

Lau, M., Markham, C., Lin, H., Flores, G., & Chacko, M. R. (2009). Dating and sexual attitudes in Asian-American adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research24(1), 91-113.

Lykens, J., Pilloton, M., Silva, C., Schlamm, E., Wilburn, K., & Pence, E. (2019). Google for sexual relationships: Mixed-methods study on digital flirting and online dating among adolescent youth and young adults. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance5(2), e10695.

Tharp, A. T., Burton, T., Freire, K., Hall, D. M., Harrier, S., Latzman, N. E., Luo, F., Niolon, P. H., Ramirez, M. & Vagi, K. J. (2011). Dating Matters™: Strategies to promote healthy teen relationships. Journal of Women’s Health20(12), 1761-1765.

Reeb, K. S. (2009). Parent-teen communication about dating behaviors and its relationship to teenage dating behaviors: From the teen’s perspective. Proceedings of the New York State Communication Association2008(1), 5.

Reed, L. A., Tolman, R. M., & Ward, L. M. (2017). Gender matters: Experiences and consequences of digital dating abuse victimization in adolescent dating relationships. Journal of adolescence59, 79-89.

More relationship advice?

Dear Son, Before Dating: Be Mr. Right
Dear Daughter: Before Dating, Embrace Yourself
Funny Real-Life Stories From Daughters: When Their Dads Found Out About Them Dating

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