The Dating Game: Is Your Teen Ready?

By Lisa Katz
Boy carrying girl on back spinning her around outside

The teenage years can be some of the best years in a person’s life. During this time, your child may find a best friend, explore a newfound talent or even fall in love for the first time. But how do you know if your teen is ready to start dating?

Love and crushes

During these formative years, it is beneficial for your teenager to begin to understand the difference between love and having a crush. To be fair, this understanding is sometimes difficult to comprehend even as an adult.

Love is a deep feeling that develops over time. When you are in love, you want to be there through all of the good and the bad times. You are physically attracted to each other and emotionally committed. You are supportive and considerate of each other’s feelings. Love is also working as a team to get through difficult situations and then wanting to celebrate any victories … together.

Having a crush on someone can also be an exciting time. You want to spend all of your time together but usually only for the fun times. Having a crush often recognizes that person as being “perfect,”and that ideal image can often lead to only seeing the good in someone and none of the flaws. Having a crush is often just being in love with love or what you think love is or could be.

Into the dating world

So when do you allow your teen to start exploring those love vs. crush feelings and begin dating? As you would imagine, every parent has a different opinion. Talk openly with your own children about their thoughts as well as your personal, parental expectations.

We understand that every child matures at a slightly different age. A 15-year-old girl may be more mature and ready to date while a 16-year-old boy isn’t even close to being ready for such a responsibility.

Often, parents will start their teen’s dating process in steps by allowing their 14-year-old to only go out on “group dates.” Kids are typically fine with that restriction at this stage. Many parents feel 16 is a better, more mature age to begin actual dating. “One-on-one dates should probably wait until age 16 or even 17, depending on the maturity of the teen, and your assessment of the date in question,” suggests Mary Waldon, a licensed clinical social worker.

Building Blocks

Being in different types of relationships will help to mold your child’s perception of friendships and love for years to come. Dr. Brenda Schaeffer, psychologist and author of “Love or Addiction: The Power and Peril of Teen Sex and Romance,” views teen dating as a pivotal time. “The thing is, during adolescence, dating is a dress rehearsal for adult relationships,” explains Dr. Schaeffer.

While one never knows how long a teenage love or crush will last, understand that it will feel very real to your child. Take your teen seriously and do not mock his feelings. This is a huge learning time in your teen’s life. Your teen needs you right now… even if he thinks he doesn’t. Be a pillar of support, and be open to questions and conversations as your teen ventures into the sometimes scary but wonderful world of love.


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