Dear Cici,

When is the right time to let my teen start dating?

– Out of Touch in Ulupalakua

Dear Out of Touch,

This is a question I’m sure many parents ask themselves. It’s hard to imagine our child being old enough or mature enough to enter into a romantic relationship. On top of that, modern dating is very different from what many of us remember; in fact, even using the word “dating” is likely to get an eye roll from your teen.

To answer your question, kids in the US typically start “dating” around 15-16yo., some earlier, some later. Remember, it’s normal and healthy to have romantic interests at this age. Dating is an important step in helping us develop social and relationship skills and it teaches us how to cope with things like rejection and heartbreak. It’s also how we begin to explore our developing sexuality, but that can be a separate conversation with your teen.

In the past young people might have met at school or through friends. Today most of us are online and many relationships among young people (and adults) begin on a variety of social media platforms. Kids might follow their crush online before they begin talking and eventually hanging out in real life.

The ability to connect has advantages and also some risks involved. In some ways, it can help us to get to know someone before meeting in person. However, it can also create a false sense of intimacy. Talk with your kid about how they view/define a relationship. Be curious, ask questions and most of all… listen.

Once you’ve accepted the fact that your kid is probably ready to start dating, it’s a good idea to establish some guidelines. Parameters should be based on behavior rather than age. Dating is a privilege and is earned by following ground rules and showing good judgment.

  • Ask to meet the person, this is especially important if they met online. Is the person they are interested in going out with age-appropriate? There’s a big difference in maturity between a 13yo and a 17yo.  
  • Know where they are going and what time they will be home. You might suggest group dates as a low-pressure option or invite them to hang out at your house. If they’re going to the other kid’s house, ask them to speak with the parent/adult in the home.  
  • Establish a curfew.
  • Have a safety plan to help your kid get out of a risky situation.

Kids benefit from adult guidance regarding dating, creating healthy boundaries and spotting potential problems early. Wouldn’t you rather they learn about how to form healthy relationships from you rather than from TV, movies or social media?  The key is to start having these conversations early and keep the lines of communication open, and create a safe, non-judgemental space for your kid to ask questions or talk to you about anything.

Cecilia Ortiz, LCSW is a clinical social worker and a mom. She has nearly 20 years of experience including working with kids, teens, and adults in the areas of education, abuse, traume, and prevention.