My Momma Told Me …
By Barbara McRae, MCC
Spring is often associated with new growth and the sweetness of new love. For teenagers it’s a time of change and choices as they face finals and form new social attachments. For parents the subject of dating raises concerns about risky behaviors.
Do you remember the Smokey Robinson song: My Momma Told Me, You’d Better Shop Around? Momma waited until her son was of age before offering her advice. And while “shopping” for who you think is the right guy or girl rather than settling for who is currently available is still good advice, the time-line has changed.
The best time to provide your insights and guidance is long before dating begins. Ideally you’ve talked about how to distinguish between being “in love” or “crushes” versus genuine love while your kids are preteens. Then it’s much easier to keep the lines of communication open during the later stages of adolescence and into adulthood to further discuss intimacy in new relationships.
Too often parents believe that if they talk about it they’ll just be “planting ideas in a young person’s head.” Not so. The opposite is true. Studies show that parents that openly talk to their children about how to date safe and foster healthy images of the physicality in relationships increase the chances that their kids will make smarter choices.
How to Talk About Dating
1. Acknowledge Your Own Discomfort
It’s natural to feel a bit awkward or fearful at first. It’s OK to say, “This is new territory for me to be talking with you about dating. So, please don’t be too hard on me!”
2. Share Your Relationship Values
Mention some things you’ve learned along the way that you wish you had known before you started dating. (Use age appropriate examples). Ask what they already know about relationships and be willing to fill in the gaps. Ask: What do you think you need from your date to feel safe and loved?
3. Foster a Two-Way Conversation
Listen fully and encourage dialog. Don’t be too alarmed if you hear things that you don’t agree with. Teenagers change their minds quickly and fall in and out of love just as fast. Your responses will determine how much a young person will share with you.
4. Set Reasonable Dating Rules
Be clear about your expectations and share your reasons for ground rules in your home. If you include the input of your teenagers, they’ll be more likely to follow them. Know who your child will be with; when and where they’re going. This is easier to enforce with adult children when you provide this information to them as well when you’re going out, as a courtesy.
The Benefits of Teenage Dating
Parents can get blinded by all of the potential dangers, that they lose sight of how dating profoundly aids the developmental process in becoming a healthy adult. As teens begin their “identity formation” during adolescence, they develop a stronger “sense of self.” They begin to understand their values and learn how this impacts their friendships and relationships.
They learn how to respect and assert themselves in order to maintain their individuality while being linked with another person. They also learn about the joy of being a team with shared goals.
Boys and girls will naturally shop for someone who meets a need that they’re already familiar with. Dating helps teens to become more familiar with themselves. It sheds light on additional critical factors that need to be present to make dating, and having a relationship, become a positive experience.
My Momma Told Me…
Let your kids know that when they’re shopping, it really isn’t a bargain if they’ve settled for something that just doesn’t fit.
Encourage your kids to shop around. When you respectfully communicate with your teenagers by building trust, and fostering growth, you’ll be a positive influence. And dating can become as worry-free as possible.
Campus Calm Parent/Teen Expert