What Age Should You Allow Your Child To Date?

What Age Should You Allow Your Child To Date?

Having your teenage son or daughter go on a date for the first time can be a stressful experience – for them, as well as for you, their parents. One of the few things more stressful than that is having a preteen child go on dates. How is a parent even supposed to handle that!?

Fortunately, modern pediatrics and psychology tell us a lot about the reality of teen dating and how it should be handled. And, no, the answer isn’t to just scream “No dates!” at your kid. 

The “Right Age”

So, what age should you allow your child to date? Well, it should come as no surprise that there is no “right age” that’s true for every child and for every situation. There are numerous reasons for that.

For one, different things qualify as “dating.” For many kids, especially early teens and preteens, “dating” is basically equivalent to “hanging out.” The ages of 10 to 13 or 14 are usually when both boys and girls realize that they don’t have to just hang out with members of their genders – they can also hang out with each other.

So, when a preteen boy and a preteen girl decide they want to be friends, it’s normal for them to try and define that relationship through the lenses and paradigms they see from their parents and older siblings or friends – “dating.”

In other words, if a 13 year old boy and a 12 year old girl decide to date, in the vast majority of cases, this just means they want to hang out, chat online, hold hands, and maybe kiss, as that’s what they have seen from their older brothers and sisters.

This type of “dating” is hardly concerning. On the contrary – it can be very healthy for the mental and emotional development of your child. A degree of caution should be advised, of course, but that rarely extends to more than just asking your child, “How is Jimmy/Jenny?” or “What did you two do this afternoon?”

Older things, on the other hand, obviously mean drastically different things by “dating.” Such situations require much more care and caution, but the parent’s focus should still remain on just keeping an eye on the situation, making sure their child is safe, and being a supportive influence rather than a constricting “jailor.”

During the ages of 13 to 16, it’s perfectly normal for kids to “date more seriously” by officially presenting as “boyfriend and girlfriend” in front of their friends, hugging, kissing, and chatting till the late hours of the night. For anything more intimate than that, however, it’s usually best to wait until the child is older than 16, or, in some cases – 18.

There is no exact limit here, however, as every teen is different, and so are their dates. So, the rule of thumb is that every parent should try to be as informed as possible. And, obviously, the more emotionally intelligent a child the parents have raised, the better.

Factors to Consider When Figuring Out What to Tell Your Child

Figuring out the complicated world of teen dating can be tricky for a parent. To help you out, here are a few pointers and things you should consider.

1. What kind of “dating” are we talking about?

“Dating” is a very charged world. Yet, there is a difference between two kids spending time with each other, holding hands, and talking about movies, and your son looking for a mail order girlfriend on a site like BridesUniverse.com. So, the first step is usually to look into the exact type of dating your child is going through – ideally without making them feel like you are trying to be overly controlling.

2. How emotionally mature is your child?

As we know, girls mature emotionally faster than boys. However, that’s just a matter of averages. In the real world, every child matures at a different time. So, if your kid is more emotionally mature, whether they are a boy or a girl, you can usually approach their dating endeavors with more trust.

3. How emotionally mature is your child’s date?

The second part of the dating equation is the maturity of your child’s date. And this is the trickiest factor to control, as you often have no real idea who they are dating. If you do know the other kid, however, you can either rest assured everything will be ok or you’ll need to take immediate action.

Obvious red flags include – if the other kid has temperament issues, if they are overly controlling, if they have bad manners, if they have had trouble at school, and so on.

4. How safe is the place or area where they want to hang out?

Where your kid is going on a date is often more important than who they are dating and how old they are. Going on a movie date in a safe part of town is drastically different from driving to the lake with a senior in the middle of the night. 

How Do You Discuss This With Your Child?

A huge hiccup for many well-meaning parents is how to even approach this issue with their kids without making them feel attacked. Here are some tips:

1. Set rules and limits as a family

Rules are good – they dictate almost every part of our adult life, so they should apply to teens and preteens too. However, when setting certain rules, such as curfew, it’s important to do so as a family – you, your partner, and your kid. Just sit together, have a casual, non-adversarial chat, and make sure everyone is heard, everyone’s concerns are addressed, and everyone understands and agrees with the rules.

2. Make sure your kid understands that you don’t mistrust them

The biggest tip we can give is that you should make sure your child understands these rules aren’t set because you don’t trust them – they are set because you don’t trust the countless unpredictable factors in any dating situation (the other person, the environment, society at large, and so on).

If your child feels like you don’t trust them, this can lead to an immediate communication breakdown. However, if they feel you trust them and you’re in their corner, they will often gladly listen to anything you have to say.

3. Don’t go behind your kid’s back

On the topic of trust – going behind your child’s back by talking with their date’s parents or friends can be perceived as a huge breach of trust. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to gather information on your kid’s date. However, it means you should do it with their consent or through their own input.

4. Avoid talking down to them

The worst mistake a parent can make is to talk to their child as if… they were a child. This can sound silly from an adult’s point of view, but kids need to feel they are treated with respect, and failing to do so can result in an immediate breakdown of communication.

5. Make sure your kid understands the risks and how to stay safe, without trying to frighten them

Of course, you’d also want to make sure your kids understand the risk of dating. This doesn’t just include the risk of them being heartbroken after a bad date but also the real serious risk of physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse.

6. Share with your kid some basic red flags they should watch out for

Those red flags parents need to be aware of when it comes to their child’s date? Those are things your child should be aware of as well. Keeping your kid informed of red flags, such as unbalanced emotional behavior, control issues, and so on, is always a good idea.

7. Stay as supportive as possible

Whatever you do or say, it’s important to be as supportive as possible and to make sure your child sees and understands that.

For more information on parenting strategies and support, you can visit the U.S. Government's Parenting Resources.

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