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‘Should My Teenager Date?’

I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), and I know how hard it is. Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent. I hope this is instructive for other parents who may have wanted to ask the same question and who will appreciate some guidance here. 

Dear Dr. Meeker,
My son is a good Christian teenager. We are a Christian family. My son recently told me he met a good Christian girl. Like all parents, we thought of that day being far off in the future, but it happens really fast!

We suggested that since he was just 16, he should wait because it is such a big responsibility. Dating for us is something serious, but at the same time we realize that it’s normal at the age of 16 to be interested at some point. We suggested that he keep this young lady as a good friend and get to know her better, and that time will tell — and for now, to be 16, do well in school, keep up his youth group activities and enjoy himself.

What do you think about teens and dating? Thank you!

Sincerely,
Tania

Dear Tania,
You are right. With pressures on teens to be emotionally and sexually intimate, dating has taken on new meaning over the past 20 years.

My advice to teens is to nurture good friendships with the opposite sex because this is the best way to really get to know the character of others. When teens date, they don’t act like themselves in many ways and work to please the person they are dating. This is not only true for girls, but for boys as well.

Related: Tips for Parenting Your Teens [1]

There is another reason I am not an advocate of dating during the teen years. Usually, nothing positive comes of high school dating relationships. Most teens break up and many of them hurt deeply after break-ups. My experience has taught me that teen boys often have a harder time with break-ups than girls because they don’t talk about their feelings and many feel as if they failed.

Make sure he realizes that you are not anti-romance and that you are just the opposite. Tell him it is wonderful, but timing is critical.

We also know that the temptation for teens to be sexually active when they are dating is great, and this adds another level of complexity and pain to the relationships after the couple has broken up. I’m not saying your son will go down this path, but I guarantee he will be tempted because he is a normal, healthy teen boy.

Related: Tips from My Dad, for My Kids [2]

I encourage you to keep open, frank and positive conversations going with your son. Tell him you completely understand his desire to date, but that he will get to know his friend much better if they remain friends. Let him know that if he and this girl are meant to be together, their friendship will survive, and they can date later.

Remind him that you want his life to remain balanced and full.

Finally, make sure he realizes that you are not anti-romance and that you are just the opposite. Tell him that it is wonderful, but timing is critical.

I am sure that he has seen friends date and become consumed with girlfriends. Remind him that this happens easily and that you want his life to remain balanced and full.

If he begins dating too soon, he can fall in love, face temptations that are tough to handle, spend less time doing things that he loves and that are good for him, and too much time with a girlfriend.

While he may not end up with his heart broken, there is a very good chance that he will ultimately break up and if he is sensitive, carry a lot of hurt into his future.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.”