The suggestion comes from 10 tips to guide families through teen dating and relationships, given by Marilyn Maxwell, M.D., professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Saint Louis University, who said that there's a need for the parents to provide guidance and boundaries.
"Some parents feel uncomfortable creating any type of boundaries for their children, particularly as they get older. But contrary to popular belief, kids do feel safer and more secure when they have boundaries," said Maxwell.
According to Maxwell, who is a contributing author to both Questions Kids Ask About Sex: Honest Answers for Every Age and Focus on the Family's Complete Guide to Baby and Child Care, parents should initiate talking with children about relationships long before the first date. He also said that parents should also help their children develop realistic expectations for relationships. This includes talking about qualities that truly matter in a relationship, such as shared values, mutual respect, easy conversation and shared interests.
"Some parents feel uncomfortable talking to their teens about sex for a number of reasons. Perhaps they're embarrassed or feel hypocritical because they themselves did not wait until marriage. Some parents are hesitant because they feel it's inevitable. But I tell parents that it is so important to talk to your children about sex starting even at a young age and certainly more as they get older. Parents need to share their values and expectations with their children. It's not inevitable that a teen will become sexually active, particularly if you let her know how you expect her to act," said Maxwell.
He also advised that instead of condemning premarital sex, children should be told about the benefits of abstaining, such as preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
It's been long-sought that parents should provide guidance and boundaries when they are ready to start dating. Here are 10 tips by Maxwell to guide families through teen dating and relationships:
1. Set the ground rules and stick to them: Putting curfew and limiting the children to acceptable activities can act beneficial. Some parents also require the date to first spend time getting to know the family.
2. Consider your child's maturity level: Many parents set a certain age, say 16, for dating, however, all the children do not mature at the same rate.
3. Encourage group activities rather than solo dates, especially for younger teens.
4. Incorporate dates into family activities: This time should not be used to drill the date, but to get to know him and have fun together.
5. Be involved in your child's plans: Know where he is going, with whom and when he will be home.
6. Provide supervision: Leaving children alone for hours or not requiring accountability might lead to undesirable behaviour.
7. Watch for dangerous behaviours such as rollercoaster emotions, neediness, isolation, verbal disrespect or physical abuse.
8. Pick your battles: Don't forbid a relationship unless it is abusive, controlling or isolating. Maxwell also said that teens shouldn't date someone more than two years older because of the maturity differences.
9. If your child has already had sex, tell her that it is never too late to start making good decisions and encourage her to make a commitment to wait until marriage.
10. Loosen up on the reins: While parents need to set appropriate boundaries, it's important to entrust your teen with increasing responsibilities to manage themselves.
According to Maxwell, relationships provide important learning opportunities for children, from kindergarten crushes to teen love. He said that by talking openly and honestly with your child and providing appropriate guidance and boundaries, parents can help their children successfully navigate the world of love.