QUESTION: Our 14-year-old son is starting to take an interest in dating and it seems all of his friends at school are pairing off into couples. We think he is too young to be involved in a serious relationship, but we don’t want to stop him from experiencing dating in a healthy way just because we are afraid of his growing up. Is 14 too young for dating? How can we talk to him about it?
BBB: Wouldn’t it be easy if there were one right or wrong answer to your question?
We live in very different times, certainly different than when I was growing up and likely you, too. When I was young, dating meant that a boy came to my house to pick me up. He came into the house, greeted my parents, uncomfortably answered the uncomfortable questions my father asked, and promised the exact time at which we would be home. And yes, he drove.
Today the definition of dating is quite different. Middle schoolers “date” by hanging out together in a group. Those who say they are “dating” might text one another often (saying almost nothing), stand together at recess, maybe eat lunch together. And that’s it.
High schoolers may define dating as being exclusive with one another emotionally, socially and for some, sexually, meaning they do not “hook up.” We dinosaurs might not even recognize dating as dating today.
It does seem like dating of some kind is starting younger and younger. However, the age at which one’s child is “ready” to date in the more traditional sense will be different for each person, each family and even for each child within a family.
There isn’t really a “normal age” for starting.
The variables a parent looks at in making the dating readiness decision might include assessing:
His behavior in social settings based on his history;
The social judgment he has shown in the past;
His choice of friends;
His moral maturity;
The level of responsibility he takes with everything, including his homework; and
His respect for authority.
Whether your son is old enough, mature enough and ready enough to date depends on what dating actually means to him. Start the conversation by asking your son what dating means and what he and his date have in mind.
If and when you determine that the time is right for dating, it is important that you make your expectations and rules clear for him, despite what any of his peers’ rules are. These might include:
Alcohol and drugs;
Keeping you informed about his whereabouts and when plans change;
Making good choices; and
As much as we might like to, we cannot protect our kids forever or wrap them in bubble wrap. They do have to learn to deal with the real world. They need us to trust them as they move out and away, step by step. That said, and depending upon your child’s dating definition and plans, most professionals and parents feel like 16 years old is the time when many teens begin singular, one-on-one dating. Get ready.
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.