Is my son dating?

There are so many little things that remind us that our baby is not a baby anymore. While kindergartners may have boyfriends and girlfriends, it’s really the teenage years that become terrifyingly real for parents. The flow of information is filtered and his independent mobility makes it difficult to exert the kind of control he used to have. As someone who has worked with parents of teens for years, and as a parent myself, I understand how important this milestone is in the life of any parent and their teen.

There are a few things to watch for, but most importantly, parents should talk to each other to discuss their feelings about relationships, the boundaries they want to set, and their own child’s level of maturity. Not all 13- or 15-year-olds are in the same place emotionally, and parents understand their children better. Relationships can incorporate “drama,” jealousy, and a great deal of time spent on communication, such as calls, social media, and text messages. If organization, time management, and focus are already struggles for your child, then this needs to be factored into the preparation and expectations that will come with it.

I have often helped parents see that school performance is a great indicator when it comes to relationship readiness. Children who do well academically are likely locked into long-term goals and ambitions, so relationships can be positive growth without fear that they will sidetrack the child from preparing for her future. Kids who struggle academically tend to be more impulsive and inattentive to the moment, which means relationship entanglements can further hamper their academic performance and eat up their school time. Kids who struggle with confidence can also struggle with confidence, and this anxiety can lead them to spend a lot more time on things that aren’t helpful. Persevering in the intentions of a loved one can go on for hours during adolescence.

Talking with your child (after parents have discussed parameters) is important to establishing a healthy flow of communication, and you can be a great support they can turn to for guidance. Parents should set enforceable time limits for communication and a kind of “curfew” regarding communication (no texting at 1am). Parents also need to establish communication with the other person’s parents, to establish the perception that secrecy will not be a possibility for their child (which will reduce their efforts to lie).

These are difficult times, but most people experience these similar feelings of sadness over the loss of their baby and personal influence, as well as anger at the influence another person might have. Talking with other parents can go a long way toward normalizing the experience and providing helpful advice in this chapter. Parents should also discuss their own feelings about sex and be consistent in their approach with their teen. Threats usually don’t help create an open dialogue with your child through this difficult journey and cause them to rely on their own judgment for fear of retaliation, which is usually not the best thing to do.

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