Most parents have a hard time bringing up the dating conversation to their children. Whether this is due to failed marriages, unhappy romantic relationships in the past or present, or just no interest in the dating life of tweens and teens, it’s a difficult subject. You may think you are jumping to “the talk” too early, or you may feel boring. Whatever the case, research shows that more millennials and young kids of today desire more guidance and more wisdom from their parents. How do you talk to your child about dating safety when they are ready or wanting to date?
Begin with framing the conversation for ultimate clarity. Many children have questions even as young as 10 years old about what dating is. They’ve heard about many different types of feelings and actions that lead to romantic relationships and even sex through friends, television, and even your own relationship with a romantic partner. But at this point, they have never actually experienced it for themselves.
Remember that they are attempting to identify their own feelings, where they came from, and what they should do about them; it can be confusing and embarrassing. As a parent the best place to start is to frame how intimacy and sexuality are two different pieces to the puzzle. But they interlock, like puzzle pieces, to form a complete picture.
From this point it’s wise to consider the following: approach them with sincerity and genuineness. Tell them about your inner process at their age, what you did when you began dating. Explain some real truths and any possible consequences of bad decisions and connect with them by seeing it from their point of view. Check the overlap from your experience too, ask yourself “what am I modeling” and “Do I want that for my son or daughter?” Lastly, honesty and total transparency is the best way to go.
When you approach your child with sincerity and love they will be more open and ready to ask their embarrassingly tough questions. Even when they do not have anything to ask, continue to respect them by not assuming you know what they are thinking as you talk about dating. Respecting them is a key ingredient to a healthy talk.
Explaining your process can be tough especially when you recognize your failures from the past. What adds to the difficulty is that your child may already be judging you in some way or another. “Here they are trying to tell me…and they failed…they don’t know anything…” Guess what? One of the best phrases to say in a conversation, and not many people use it is, “I don’t know.” This is not only honest (in some cases) but inviting to engage in an open ego-less discussion. Saying the words “I don’t know” can lead to self-discovery and connection in conversation like these. When you start in with, “I’ve made mistakes and I don’t necessarily know how I got here, but I love you and…” will immediately validate your love and eventually what you have learned.
Experimentation with sexuality and a variety of forms of intimacy can lead to unintended consequences. Go back to clarity. Ask your child what he or she intends to get out of a dating relationship. Is it a friend? A first kiss? A long-time lover? A passionate soul-mate? A marriage? It is good to establish parameters and consequences of those choices. Attempt to define what your child values or what she is seeking. Ask if it can be met in any other way if the “consequences” are not what he or she intends as a desired outcome.
Honesty and transparency can be the strongest guiding principle in the end. Offering a valid take on the relationship that you are in and the struggles and benefits you’ve experienced may be enough for your child to begin thinking about dating, what it means, and how to protect their hearts from heartbreak, unintended consequences, and lost esteem.
At the end of the day, don’t be shy. Keep going to your child. These talks are not once in a lifetime. They stretch across the different ages and phases of adolescent to adult years and always morph and change as desires and values evolve. Continue to approach your child with love and guidance and encourage your child to be safe, thoughtful, and intentional about every romantic relationship they begin.