Whether you like it or not, kids turn into teenagers, and teenagers turn into people who want to date other people. And whether you’re prepared for it or not — whether your rules allow for it or not, you can’t stop nature from happening.
So, what do you do when you notice more-than-friends relationships form? How do you prepare your child? How do you steady yourself for the ride ahead? If you have found yourself asking those questions, here are some ways to help you along the way.
1. Accept the Inevitable
Just like your child was born with the ability to root for food, open his eyes and merely take a breath, the same innate brain wiring will eventually develop into a need to be physically and emotionally intimate.
For some, what is officially known as puberty, happens earlier, and for some a little later, but knowing and accepting the inevitable is the first step in this journey. You can run and hide, but this part of life isn’t going anywhere.
2. Try to Avoid “Don’t” Statements
“Don’t hold hands,” “Don’t kiss,” “Don’t be alone with a boy.” These are all well-intended statements that are often not received well. Why? Well, because telling someone not to do something has a way of piquing curiosity that could very well drive your child to do the very thing you don’t want her to do.
Don’t statements also lend themselves to a feeling of fear, whether that fear is tied to that thing warned against, or to you. As a parent or guardian, the last thing you want is your teenager to be afraid of you.
3. Arm your Children with the Right to Choose
Rather than “don’t” statements that plant a seed of rebellion and fear, remind your child of her right and power to choose. For instance, your teenager is going out where a certain person of interest might be there. Rather than saying, “Don’t let him kiss you,” try saying “He might kiss you, are you OK with that?”
Approaching it this way, prepares your child for what might be ahead, while also giving her a choice. And when you do that, it allows for a follow up conversation because she will be more eager to tell you about the choice she made.
4. Use Age Appropriate Education
As much as you may want to let your teen know it all before he encounters it, it might be wise to let the moment come before divulging it all.
Case and point: if your 13-year-old son wants to meet a girl at the park, this is not the time to talk about unwanted teen pregnancy. Perhaps use this as a time to teach him about how to respect her by listening and getting to know her first.
Now, this is not to say that your teens shouldn’t know about those other things like sex and it’s consequences, but those conversations should also happen in the settings and circumstances that are appropriate.
5. Be your Child’s Safe Place
As wonderful as dating is, it can also be scary. Perhaps your daughter had her first kiss, and it was everything she ever dreamed of, and she wants someone to be excited for her. Maybe she encountered a hard relationship that led to sadness and even depression. She may even make a choice in the moment that causes her to feel shameful or embarrassed — or to even have long term consequences. Maybe a choice was made for her without her consent.
You need to be that safe place. Because being a parent or guardian is more than providing food and shelter; it is being that safe place for your child when times get hard.