Relationships can be both rewarding and challenging. Teen Dating 101 addresses things to discuss with your teen before they start dating. Relationships can be tough to navigate for any age bracket, and for pre-teens and teens who are still learning about who they are as individuals, it can be even more confusing.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average age at which kids start dating is around 12-13 years old. Parents and caregivers should begin having conversations about dating and peer relationships as soon as possible and continue to have these conversations regularly.
What Does Dating Mean?
Once youth do start dating, it is important to continue to assess and help them understand what exactly dating means to them at this stage of their life.
- Does dating mean that they are calling someone their boyfriend or girlfriend?
- How do they feel about that label?
- Do they feel any sort of pressure to be in this relationship?
- What sort of expectations come with this relationship?
- Does it change any of their other relationships?
- Are there physical, emotional, behavioral, or physical expectations?
- Does the other party have similar expectations?
These questions should be explored openly, honestly, and without judgment, and they should occur as regular parts of communication and conversation in the home.
Dating violence among teens is shockingly prevalent. According to the Centers for Disease Control, (CDC) data for high-school students who are dating show that 1 in 12 experience physical dating violence, and 1 in 12 experience sexual dating violence. Reports of physical and sexual violence in dating relationships for youth are higher in females than males, and students identifying as LGBTQ experience an increased risk of sexual and physical violence in dating relationships compared to heterosexual and cisgender peers.
It is important for youth to have a plan of action prepared for who they can talk to if they have concerns about themselves or their peers. It is equally as important that the person, or people, they choose to have as their “go-to” will agree to remain calm and nonjudgmental if and when the adolescent needs to talk about serious matters. Modeling healthy relationships in the home, both platonic and romantic, can have a profound impact on the types of relationships adolescents may become involved in, and on the behaviors they might be willing or unwilling to accept in relationships as well.
Below are some red flags and things for parents to consider when it comes to adolescents and dating.
Love bombing is often a part of an abusive cycle. Conflict is a part of life and there will inevitably be conflicts in any relationship, however, these conflicts should be handled with care, compassion, communication, and mutual respect. Relationships should not have massive swings of being really good and really bad.
We all have off days, but generally speaking, relationships should be stable, amicable, and predictable in behaviors. Partners who behave in an abusive, erratic, manipulative, disrespectful, or violent way, and then follow it up with gifts and big displays of affection, only to repeat the cycle again, are engaging in abuse and you deserve better. Gifts, words of affirmation, and gestures of affection are great, but not when they are always a direct result of atoning for bad behaviors or as a means of control.
Abuse in any form is not ok. Not all abuse is physical. Spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, and sexual abuse are just as bad. If a partner is trying to isolate you from friends and family, that is also a sign of abuse.
Obsession can oftentimes look like acts of love, infatuation, or flattery. If a partner is smothering you with attention, showing up everywhere you are because they just can’t bear to be away from you, and checking in constantly to see where you are and what you are doing, this can be cause for concern. If you express concern and your partner seems hurt or dismissive rather than trying to understand how you feel, that is further evidence that their actions are not ones of love, but rather obsession and control.
Jealousy can be a big problem, especially in young relationships. Relationships should be built on mutual trust and should not interfere with friendships, familial relationships, or other important relationships in people’s lives. Partners should not try to discourage each other from seeing or talking to other people, or going places without them simply based on jealousy. Each person in a relationship is still an individual and deserves to have a life of their own outside of the relationship.
Influence. A partner should never pressure you to do anything you are uncomfortable with. This has to do with anything from holding hands, to kissing, going to someone’s house, going to a party, having sex, using drugs or alcohol, engaging in risky behaviors, saying I love you, and anything else that might arise in a relationship.
If something makes you uncomfortable, you can say no. You don’t have to have a reason other than you simply don’t want to. Saying no once should be enough, you should not feel pressured, guilted, coerced, or shamed into doing anything that you do not want to do. And even if you do something once and then decide you don’t want to do it again, that’s ok and a partner needs to respect that.
Lying is a bad sign in any relationship. Each person in a relationship should feel like they can trust their partner. Lying is a big red flag and oftentimes people who lie about little things will lie about big things as well.
Manipulation comes in many forms. A few big red flags when it comes to manipulation are things like a partner threatening self-harm or suicide if you try to leave them. This is a form of abuse and their mental health is not your responsibility. This is something that you should tell a trusted adult, but you should not feel obligated to stay in a relationship simply because the other person is threatening to harm themselves if you leave.
Another form of manipulation is holding secrets or information over you. If a partner threatens to share pictures, tell your secrets, or spread information about you just so you will stay with them or do what they want, this is also abusive and should not be tolerated in a relationship.
Support. If a partner does not support you and your goals or ambitions, if they put you down and discourage you from doing the things you like, or from trying new things that interest you, that is also a big red flag. If partners try to change you by saying things like “you should dress like this…” “I would like you better if you …” “You would be more attractive if you …” or if they are constantly comparing you to others, that is another sign that the relationship is not a healthy one.
Online Dangers. Many teens are meeting people and talking to people online. There are a lot of risks that come with this and extreme caution should be used when interacting with people over the internet and through apps. It can be hard to know who you are really talking with.
If a contact is avoiding video calls, tells you not to tell your parents about them, asks for explicit content or vulnerable information, lacks proof of things they are claiming, or reuses images, these can be signs that they are not who they say they are. Never give out your address, full name, or personal information online. Never meet someone alone (or without a trusted adult’s knowledge) who you have only ever met online.
These are just a few tips and warning signs to be aware of when it comes to adolescents and dating. These concepts can be great starting points for families to have these valuable conversations. Most importantly – talk to your kids about dating and what healthy relationships look like.
Things I Wish I Knew
Thoughts and advice from area moms.
If you or someone you know needs help please reach out the following resources:
Jillian Amodio is a mother of two, mental health advocate and creator of Moms For Mental Health, and social work student at Salisbury School of Social Work. She is passionate about family, health and wellness, and spreading joy like glitter! She lives in Cape Saint Claire with her husband, children, and crazy dog.