Dating is an important part of growing up. But your child’s age isn’t the biggest factor to consider when deciding whether he’s ready to pursue a romantic relationship. Base your decision on his maturity level.
For example, how does he handle his responsibilities? How does he treat others? How does he manage his emotions?
If your child has learning and attention issues, there may be as much as a three-year discrepancy between his chronological age and his social and emotional maturity. This is important to keep in mind for several reasons:
- Impulsive behavior: If your child still has trouble controlling his impulses, he could speak or behave in ways that are inappropriate or possibly harmful. Taking risks could have serious consequences.
- Social perception: If your child has difficulty understanding things like body language and tone of voice, he could get the wrong idea about how others feel about him. Flirting could be confusing. He may also have trouble getting the message that a person is not interested in him.
- Conversational skills: Staying on topic can be a challenge for kids with learning and attention issues. The same is true for being able to listen to someone else’s thoughts and ideas and respond appropriately. Anxiety about dating can also make it harder for your child to focus on conversational skills.
Rather than targeting a specific age for dating, use this precious time to help your child work on his social skills.
Discuss the importance of delaying gratification. Talk through examples such as whether to lean in for a kiss now or to wait. Make clear that trying too soon could end the relationship. It’s better to wait until he’s sure the feeling is mutual. And even then it’s a good idea to ask if it’s OK before leaning in for a kiss.
Watch TV shows together that focus on teen relationships. Use these shows to examine positive and negative interactions between characters.
Help sharpen your child’s listening skills. Use concrete examples to remind him of how good it felt when someone understood what he was saying or feeling. Point out that he can make other people feel good by trying to understand them. Let your child know that he is developing lifelong skills.
When you feel that your child is ready for dating, make sure he begins slowly and casually. Group dates are good for starters. Examples include hanging out in a group at the mall or at someone’s home with parental supervision.
Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know that he should come to you if he’s feeling uncomfortable about anything.
And last but not least, try to avoid letting any of your anxiety show. Your child will pick up on these feelings, and it could make him more anxious. Do your best to prepare him for the world of dating. Once you decide he’s ready, try to enjoy this new and exciting part of his life.