A Parent's Guide to Teenage Dating and Sexuality Issues

How to Deal with Dating and Sexuality Issues of Teenagers

One of the toughest areas of raising a teenager is determining how to approach dating and sexuality. This is also one of the most hotly contested aspects of your relationship with your teen since they are unlikely to have all of the same opinions regarding dating and sex that you have. Unlike many of the rules you may set for your child, this is one area where it may be particularly difficult to determine whether they are following your rules and if not, how on earth to get them to do so.

Establishing a Dating Policy

When it comes to dating, different parents are likely to have very different opinions as to when it is appropriate for a child to start. Children as young as kindergarten may refer to their boyfriends or girlfriends but they are obviously not dating each other the same way two 16 year olds are. Unfortunately, it becomes much trickier to make the distinction when your child is 12 or 14.

Therefore, the first thing you need to do to decide your dating policy is to define dating. Does dating include referring to you as a boyfriend or girlfriend but never going anywhere together? Does dating include group dates? What about just groups of friends that go out together? The way that your child and their friends talk about dating may not be the same way you think about dating. It is not worth a dozen arguments only to discover that your child is talking about something different altogether than you are.
Some parents are more comfortable with different types of dating at different ages. Other parents do not care about the age of their children until "dating" becomes a one-on-one event. There is no one right age when a teen should be permitted to date; the correct age should be based on your family values and the personality and behaviors of your teen. Likewise, your values and your child should also determine the other rules regarding dating. For example, if you believe that your daughter has reached an appropriate age for dating, but worry because she tends to be naive, you may want to require that her dates meet you prior to them going out.

Be careful that your assessment of your teen is genuine to who they are and not a reflection of who you were at that age or any unmerited paranoia. Your child is not simply a miniature version of you and should not be judged too harshly or too generously based on your behavior as a teen.

The Date

At some point in your child's life, chances are excellent that they will date someone (or many 'someones') that you do not like or do not trust. Unfortunately, in these situations you have limited options unless you can determine that the person you dislike has actually broken the law or committed some other infraction according to an objective perspective.

So what are your options? First, understand that informing your child of your feelings regarding their significant other is unlikely to be taken in a positive manner.This is likely to be the case even if you are merely expressing concern as any loving parent would. While it is possible that your child's response will be extreme, it is perfectly natural and healthy for them to want you to approve of their significant other.They also may feel insecure or frustrated at any apparent distrust you have of them or their judgment (however merited). If your child continues to choose the same type of person, talk with them about why they believe their current relationship is more likely to work out than the last one; their answer may help you determine whether they are making poor dating choices or if in fact your perceptions of their boyfriends or girlfriends is incorrect. Either way, under most circumstances, you may just have to get over your dislike of their current partner.

Dating Violence

Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of how prevalent dating violence is among preteens and teenagers. The statistics are astounding but the hidden nature of the problem is unsurprising considering that most teens are unlikely to tell their parent if they are being victimized. Some parents believe that their child would tell them if there was a problem like that, unfortunately this is not usually the case. Other parents believe that their child would never "allow" someone to be abusive to them. The reality is that many teens assume guilt and shame in these types of situations and are highly unlikely to disclose the abuse to anyone.

If you genuinely suspect that your child's boyfriend or girlfriend is physically or emotionally abusive, you need to get involved. Your child will not thank you for your interference and may even hate you for it. It does not matter. Your job as a parent is to be hated sometimes by your child and to suck it up and do it anyway because that is what being a parent is all about. If you believe that your teen is being a victim of abuse, ask them directly. They may not tell you but their response may give you a little more insight into the situation. If they do disclose the abuse, tell them that you need to take action. Do not lie to your child about your plans or intentions or they will only feel doubly betrayed. Remind them that they are worthy of better and that your responsibility is to ensure that they are safe.

Teenage Sex

When it comes to sex, most parents, given the chance, would really prefer never to think of their teenage child having sex. That is perfectly normal; after all, your teenager does not really want to think about you having sex either. Nevertheless, human sexuality is such that both are likely events. Your child is no longer the sweet toddler you still imagine in your head. In fact, typically speaking, they are one gigantic bundle of hormones and sexual urges.

Hopefully, you have already laid the groundwork for developing a healthy dialogue with them about sex. However, even if you have not, it is not too late. Some parents imagine a single, solitary sex talk that is somehow supposed to be sufficient for communicating with your child all of your thoughts and feelings about sex and what they should expect from it. As an adult, you should know better, sex is a very complex issue. Rather than one talk about sex, there should be many talks about sex. Just as you helped your 10 year old learn math by using teachable moments in your everyday life, you should be using the innumerable opportunities around you to talk with your child about sex. Although you may feel less comfortable talking about it more often, in the end, both of you will benefit from frequent discussions and your relationship is likely to improve as well.
For most parents, one aspect of tackling the issue of sex with a teenager is to put it within the context of family or religious values. That is to say, many parents want their child to abstain from teen (and premarital) sexual behavior. Some of those parents believe that their child will abstain from this behavior, and some of them will be right. Not every teen has sex. Nevertheless, the vast majority of them do and the chances are excellent that your teen, no matter how well behaved they are or how religiously they have been raised, will probably have sex.

This means that although you may think (or hope) that a conversation about why they should abstain from sex will be sufficient, this is the time to abandon that hope. As passionate as you may be about your child maintaining their virginity, even as passionate as your child him- or herself may be about maintaining their virginity, frequent discussions about sex, including safe sex and birth control, will help ensure your child's safety and well being. If your child gives in to temptation, they can repent. Nevertheless, if they give in to temptation and contract HIV, forgiveness on behalf of a holy entity, while comforting, is very unlikely to provide sufficient relief from your grief.

In American society, it is common for there to exist a double standard when it comes to sex. Young men are frequently encouraged to pursue premarital sex by their peers, by mass media, and sometimes by their own parents. Alternatively, there are still many who find it wrong or believe it to be unnatural for teenage girls to have a significant sexual appetite. However, no one sex will think about copulation more than another sex and the reality is that men and women, whether teenage or otherwise, both enjoy sex. Teenagers, male and female, typically have high sex drives, rapidly changing hormones, and a significantly harder time withstanding temptation as their brains are still developing. As protective as some parents may be, most commonly about their daughters, it is unfair to expect one set of behaviors regarding sex out of boys and a different set of behaviors out of girls.

In case you didn't notice until now, children are expensive. Infancy, childhood, and adolescence are all very pricey endeavors. Teenagers tend to be particularly expensive because they come with all of the costs of a full adult (and often even additional costs) without any additional income. For many families, there is no question as to whether or not a teenager should get a job - for many families, it is financially necessary for the household as a whole. In these situations, it is nevertheless important for parents to work with their teen in determining what an appropriate number of work hours and what type of work may be suitable so that the teen is also able to successfully complete their schoolwork. Whenever possible, education should not be sacrificed.

Many families may not find it absolutely necessary for the teen to work but they may not have the financial ability to pay for everything the teen wishes to do. For example, cheerleading camp and cheerleading uniforms can be tremendously expensive. It may not be within a family's budget to pay for these things even though they may not need the teen to work in order to pay essential bills. In these scenarios, the teen taking on a job to pay for their own participation in extracurricular activities or other hobbies makes sense. Some parents may not feel comfortable with their teen working (especially during the school year). These parents may want to ensure that their child has sufficient time to invest in and enjoy their academics and their extracurricular activities.

There is no right way to make these decisions. As long as the child is able to pursue their studies then any decision should be appropriate. Some parents may be surprised to find that their teen would prefer to have a job than to participate in extracurricular activities. This is perfectly okay and natural as well. Some teens prefer to buy things or to save up their money than to use it on socializing or other events. Each child is different so make these types of decisions with input from your teen whenever possible.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online How to Live with a Teenager course?

Whether your child receives money by working a job or receiving an allowance, it is important for you to teach them about budgeting and money management. In fact, if this is not your strong suit, be honest with them and take a free class together. Before you know it, your child will be out in the world, making their own decisions. Unless you want them to be thousands of dollars in debt before they hit their 21st birthday, teach them some budgeting skills. Help them draw up a budget based on a fictional scenario where they have a particular income and need to designate how they will spend their money.

You may want to explore a practical lesson in budgeting by giving your teen an allowance for a certain set of costs. For example, if you usually pay for your teen's clothing, try giving them a clothing allowance. A good method might include making an estimate of how many pieces of clothing he or she needs to have, as well as how much each item costs on average. Then, give your child the money. Before taking them to shop, have them make a list of the types of clothing they will need for the time frame you intend to cover (six months is usually a good start). Help them figure out what the average cost per item should be and then take them out shopping. As they begin to pick out the items they want, have them keep a running toll. When they are ready to purchase items, help them compare how much money they will be spending with how many items they are getting and how many items they have left to get. Before long, they should start to notice that in order to get a nicer pair of jeans or name brand shoes, they will have to get a less expensive version of something else to make up the difference. If possible, use cash so that they are able to see that when the money is gone, it's simply gone and they can't purchase anything else unless they return something they have already selected. This will help your child understand the concept of a budget and the challenge of making hard choices.

Financial responsibility is an extremely important thing to teach your children but financial matters can also help your children learn other types of responsibility. For example, it can become very easy for a teen to be careless with money, especially when it's your money and not their own. They are also more likely to be careless with money if they come from a family where money is not an issue (or where they don't know that it's an issue). Then when they have a car accident, for example, they may be cavalier about the damage to the car, the increase in car insurance rates, or both. If you don't require your teen to work or contribute to the family income in order to allow them to study and enjoy their adolescence, that's a wonderful gift to give them. But it becomes an empty gift when it works against their development because they'd don't have to take any responsibility when they cause problems. Thus, if they generate some kind of financial damage due to poor decision-making or carelessness, they should be accountable for that money. Whether they pay for their error with cash or through additional chores or other forms of working the debt off, it is important that they learn that their actions have consequences.

As your teen becomes older and prepares for college, you will need to help them understand the challenges there are in paying for college. Be honest with them about what you may or may not be able to contribute financially so that they have a better idea about what they will need to come up with if in the form of financial aid. There are an astronomical number of grants available for students that are not determined by financial need or even by academic performance. Try to help them find a way to pay for college without taking on significant student loans. They will thank you for it in the future.