Teens, we know, tend to have a mind of their own—and we love them for it. But how do you express your concerns about a dating partner without alienating your teen?
You always thought it would be fun when your child turned 16 and started to date. But you didn’t anticipate this. As soon as you meet the person your child wants to date, alarm bells start ringing in your head.
Consider these things when your teen begins dating someone you don’t like:
Put aside prejudices and personal preferences. There is a difference between a personality conflict and a character problem. If your teen’s date runs a gambling ring on the weekends, then your worry is probably justified. But just because your son/daughter’s date might have a different upbringing, have different interests, or be from a different social class or ethnicity doesn’t necessarily justify disapproval. As long as the person has high standards, it is probably wise to be flexible and understanding with the differences in preference.
Trust your gut. As a parent you have the right to receive inspiration about your children. If you’ve put aside personal preferences and something still isn’t sitting right in your stomach, pay attention to your parental intuition. If you find yourself routinely troubled about who they are dating, don’t just hope those feelings will go away. Odds are they won’t until you follow your instincts and act on those feelings.
Have the courage to speak up in love. If you are unsettled about who or how your teen is dating, then have the courage to say something to your child about it in a loving and noncritical way. Remember, silence is often the quiet indicator of approval. Few things are more regrettable to a parent than not speaking up about something that later causes a child hurt and pain.
Get information first. Information often precedes inspiration. You might think your son/daughter is getting seriously involved when in reality he/she isn’t that serious and doesn’t plan to pursue the relationship. (Whew!) Asking your child questions such as, “How is it going with _______?” and “What do you think about him/her?” opens the door of communication so that if things begin to go awry, you have laid the ground work to openly talk about the relationship and appropriately advise.
Teach them the WHY. In matters of dating, openly teaching your children what your standards are and why those standards exist goes a long way to resolving dating issues. Help your teen understand why we date those with high standards, why we don’t date before 16, and why we don’t steady date when we are in high school. Teaching the why will almost always have more influence on teens then just saying, “Don’t.”
Spend time with your child and the people they date. When feasible, get to know the people your son/daughter is dating. The more you build relationships with them, the better you can influence what happens with your child.
Extend trust. The German philosopher Goethe famously said: “If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” Sometimes this is referred to as self-fulfilling prophecy: how you view someone is how they act. If you extend trust, love, and open communication to your son/daughter, that trust and openness is often returned, and your teen will likely act trustworthy in matters regarding dating.
Set limits. Even the best children sometimes make poor choices when it comes to dating. As a parent, one of your most important responsibilities is to set appropriate limits for your children. Prayerfully discern what things you should allow and should not allow your child to do.
When those alarm bells start ringing, look at it as an opportunity to teach. Teaching is never easy, and this may be one of your hardest teaching assignments. But you can succeed in helping your child date successfully.
Anthony Sweat and John Hilton III are professional religious educators for the Church Educational System and are regular speakers at Especially For Youth, Education Week, and Time Out For Women conferences. They are the co-authors of the best-selling books and Why? Powerful Answers and Practical Reasons for Living LDS StandardsHow? Essential Skills for Living the Gospel, as well as the WHY? DVD, all published by Deseret Book.