When your teen starts dating, it can be exciting and a little scary. You may be happy to see your child begin to form meaningful bonds. But it’s natural to worry that adolescents will try to grow up too fast or might not understand what they’re getting into.
How Learning and Attention Can Affect Dating Decisions
Parents of teens with learning and attention issues may be particularly concerned about dating. That’s because struggling in school can lower kids’ self-esteem. Difficulties with self-control, social skills and other common challenges can make adolescents more inclined to make poor choices.
Some teens with learning and attention issues are so eager to fit in that they tolerate treatment they shouldn’t. Or they may do something—like sexting—without considering how it may hurt themselves or others.
Why It Helps to Set House Rules About Dating
Kids with learning and attention issues benefit from explicit instruction. Don’t assume that if you hint at something, your child will catch the whole meaning. The clearer and more concrete your rules are, the more likely it is that your teen will understand and abide by them.
Talking about sex can be awkward. But your child will appreciate your honesty much more than your evasive statements. He may even respect you more because of these conversations.
A great approach is to sit down with your child and work together to develop a set of dating rules. This shows you value his input, which can help keep the lines of communication open so that your child feels comfortable turning to you when dating questions or concerns arise. The process of coming up with the rules can also help your child understand your concerns.
Suggested Rules to Discuss With Your Teen
With the right guidance and boundaries, dating can be a wonderful new experience. Here are some common ground rules you may want to bring to the table. As you’re setting house rules for dating, be sure to explain the thinking behind each rule.
Dating Rule #1: Socialize in groups until you show us you’re ready to go on dates.
Here’s why: Teens have to practice some pretty good judgment when they’re alone with someone on a date. Hanging out as part of a larger group gives your child opportunities to show you he can resist peer pressure and come home on time. If he’s mature enough to do these things when out with friends, that’s a good sign he can do them when out on a date too.
Dating Rule #2: Allow us to meet your date.
Here’s why: A date who respects your child will have the courtesy to come to the door and say hello to you. Even a brief introduction can give you a feel for the kind of person he or she is. Watching this interaction might be illuminating for your child as well.
Dating Rule #3: Tell us your plans in advance. Tell us when your plans change.
Here’s why: For safety reasons, it’s important for you know to where your teen is. This is especially true if the date is with someone your child doesn’t know well. Make sure your child understands that if he ends up in a place where the people or activities are making him uncomfortable, he can call you to help arrange an immediate ride home.
Dating Rule #4: Respect your curfew.
Here’s why: There’s not a lot of good stuff that happens when teens are out after a certain time of night. Drinking, drugs, vandalism, reckless driving—help your child understand why you want him to come home at a reasonable hour. A curfew can also be a good “out” for your child if a situation is becoming uncomfortable. Be clear that you can be flexible with a curfew if there’s a special occasion, like a show or a prom.
Dating Rule #5: Keeps doors open when you’re in the house together.
Here’s why: When doors are closed, it might be too easy for your teen to get carried away sexually. Explain that this makes you and others in the house uncomfortable. You may also want to include a rule that dates can’t come over unless you or another adult is at home.
Dating Rule #6: No really does mean no.
Here’s why: It’s hard for any teen to resist the heat of the moment. But it may be harder for kids who sometimes have trouble with self-control or with picking up on social cues. Help your child understand that even if something feels good, he needs to stop if his partner or his own gut feeling says he should.
Dating Rule #7: Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Here’s why: Sex should feel good—not just when people are in the moment but when they’re thinking back on what they’ve been doing. Talking openly can help your child think through decisions carefully so he won’t regret them later.
Dating Rule #8: Do not tolerate verbal or physical abuse from anyone.
Here’s why: Be clear that your teen is a capable, smart person who deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. Romantic relationships are no exception.
As you’re setting house rules, don’t forget to talk about the consequences for breaking them. You may want to write down the rules and encourage your child to review them from time to time. You can also get more tips on how to reduce risky behavior in teens and explore key questions that can help you decide if your child is ready to start dating.