Many years ago, particularly among rural Afrikaners, a candle (opsitkers) was burned to determine the length of an admirer’s visit. Chaperones, too, accompanied younger unmarried women when they were in public.
Bring back the past you may cry, the day the prospect of your teenager starting to date arrives. Like every parent before you, you feel unnerved. Your fears are for your child being hurt, heartbroken or manipulated. As difficult as it may be, you have to relax and allow the process of this normal, healthy and necessary phase of a young adult’s emotional development to progress.
The value and necessity of dating hasn’t changed – the process has. So has the terminology. Today’s teenagers ‘hang out’ – and this can be achieved via social media and cell phones, without even leaving the home. While it’s challenging for parents to keep up with the ever-evolving social scene, your task is to ensure your child’s safety by teaching him/her the skills needed to navigate healthy relationships.
It is imperative that you keep communication channels open and, as your teenager becomes familiar with the ‘dating game’, he/she will require fewer dating rules. These rules should be based on your child’s behaviour as opposed to his/her age. How you handle this stage of your teenager’s development has great influence on his/her future relationships.
That first date can be quite daunting for parent and child but as long as you have had the conversations with your teenager there is little reason for concern.
Topics to address include, but are not restricted to:
- the risk of rejection,
- the urge to push boundaries,
- unrealistic expectation – dating is far removed from what is seen on the screen or read in books,
- mistakes made are lessons learnt – and you’ll be there to help him/her through,
- online dating can be misleading – it often delivers false impressions,
- the expectations of dating – and what is expected of the date,
- consent is an important discussion – honouring your and your partner’s feelings and principles,
- what to do if your date behaves disrespectfully.
It may come as a shock to see the person your teenager is dating – the gender, the type… Here, it’s you who may need support! Jokes aside, remember this is a time of experimentation as your child learns who and what holds his/her interest. Be supportive, as long as this is a healthy, respectful relationship.
Together, you and your teenager could develop a set of dating rules, such as:
- meeting the date,
- curfew regulations,
- knowing where your child is going – installing a tracking app on your child’s cell phone,
- knowing if others will be in the date ‘party’,
- if your child is going to the date’s home, know who will be there – having a conversation with the date’s parents,
- if the date is at your home – allowing certain privacy,
- social media rules, as highlighted in a previous article
- if you witness unpleasant behaviour from your child – or from others – you will intervene.
The manner in which these initial stages of dating is conducted plays an important role on your child’s adult relationships – romantic and other.