When you bring a child into the world, your ultimate goal is to help them eventually become independent adults. As they take small steps towards that independence with every passing year, it can be difficult to determine when they’re truly ready for more grown-up responsibilities like navigating the dating world. Watching your baby go off in exploration of romantic relationships can also be quite scary. After all, they’ll almost certainly weather a few painful break-ups along the way. Regardless of how much you’d like to keep your teenager at home and completely safe from the potential for heartbreak, there comes a time when you must allow them to start dating. The trickiest part of that proposition, for many parents, is knowing when dating can be considered an age-appropriate activity for their child.
Remember that Age is Just a Number
It’s not uncommon for parents to settle upon sixteen as the “magic number” of dating ages, but there’s simply no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to this particular situation. Your teenager’s level of emotional maturity may be high enough at fifteen, or still a bit too far behind at seventeen. The first step to determining whether or not your teenager is ready to date is simply to throw out the idea that the number of candles on her birthday cake is indicative of her emotional ability to handle a relationship.
Talk it Out
You may be surprised to find that your teenager is actually much more prepared for the dating world in her social circle than you assumed, but you’ll have to talk to her about it first. Starting a calm and productive conversation with a teenager, especially about such a hot-button topic, isn’t always easy. Still, it’s important for your teen to know that her opinion is valued and that you’re truly listening to what she has to say before making your decision.
Consider Her Level of Responsibility in Other Areas
If your teen has never been on a date, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find evidence of her maturity in relation to matters of the heart. Taking a long, hard look at her level of responsibility in other areas can give you a basic idea of how well she’ll manage the tricky world of dating. If she’s generally lax about her schoolwork, takes an apathetic approach to household responsibilities and has a history of acting out in other ways, the pressure-cooker of dating may not be the most ideal environment for her. Talking about the importance of maturity and a sense of responsibility when you’re discussing the idea of dating with your teen can help her to understand that there are very real and important things a dating teenager will have to be responsible for.
Look at the Big Picture of Her Social Life
A teen with a thriving social life, plenty of friends and who seems to be relatively well-adjusted may be less likely to see relationships as a means of social validation. Teens who feel as if they’re an outcast or a lonely social misfit will often latch on to the first person that shows a romantic interest, and may be persuaded to make decisions in life that she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with in order to preserve the relationship. Emphasizing the importance of a well-rounded social life and a sense of identity outside of the shared one that can come with a relationship is a smart move, but you’ll still want to keep these things in mind when you’re deciding whether or not you feel comfortable with your teen starting to date.
Determine Her Susceptibility to Peer Pressure
An established track history of being susceptible to peer pressure is a very good reason to delay your teenager’s entry to the dating world for a while, or at least to set very firm ground rules. There’s obviously a fair bit of pressure that a teenager who’s recently started dating will face from her romantic partners, and it’s important that your teen be more than capable of standing up to that pressure before she’s put into such a highly-charged situation.
Work Together to Set Boundaries
If your teenager is willing to calmly and rationally discuss the reasons why you’re hesitant to condone dating, and to work with you to create a set of agreed-upon boundaries, it’s a strong indicator of her overall maturity level. Furthermore, a teenager who helped to create the guidelines to which she’s expected to adhere is less likely to rebel against them or to feel that they’re unnecessarily restrictive. A teen that’s not willing to discuss any boundaries and has no interest in a productive discussion on the subject, however, may need a bit more time to mature before she enters the complicated world of romantic relationships.