First Date Jitters

first date// by Christie Pettus

When it comes to parenting, there is never a shortage of challenging milestones to navigate. As kids get older and transition into the teenage years, those milestones become more complex. And most parents agree—one of the most daunting moments can be teenagers taking their first steps into the dating world.

Below, a few tips on navigating the first date jitters and chaperoned (or unchaperoned) nights at the movies.

Communicate
Experts agree that communicating early and often can help parents and teenagers alike.

“Establish a good relationship where there is open communication before your child ever begins to date,” says Priscilla Dobson, a guidance counselor at Tarrant Intermediate School. “If your child feels they can come to you when they are facing difficulties, then you are more likely to be aware if issues arise.”

Jeri Kreier, a mother of three teenage daughters and a staff member at Oakleaf High School, concurs. “Honesty and truthfulness are important,” she says. “The conversation goes both ways because a parent can learn so much just by listening to what a child has to say.”

Establish Clear Rules and Guidelines
The rules (and consequences if those rules aren’t followed) need to be set in advance. Teenagers are known to push boundaries, so following through on those consequences if curfews are missed or other rules aren’t followed is critical to establishing mutual respect.

“We established a trigger word that our kids could use over the phone if things ever got out of hand, and they need help,” says Cindy Nelson, a local mother of two. “We’ll show up, no questions asked.”

Setting clear expectations—but also knowing there will be mistakes—can help put everyone’s mind at ease.

Define A Healthy Relationship
Helping your teenagers understand what’s important and ensuring they are prepared to handle the emotions that come with being in a relationship is often the most difficult part of this process.

“Defining what a healthy relationship looks like and discussions about dating before your child begins dating are important,” says Dobson. “A healthy relationship should include respecting your body and being able to verbalize how you want to be treated.”

Teach Maturity
One of the biggest questions parents ask is when is the right time to allow their teenagers to date? A common response amongst parents is age sixteen. However, it’s important to remember that every child is different, and maturity plays a big part in this decision.

“Being a teenager is hard enough, but trying to incorporate someone else's feelings and actions is a whole other level of understanding,” says Renee Castillo, a local mother of two teenagers. “Not all relationships can be that intense, but we definitely wanted to be sure our kids could handle whatever type of relationship.”

In the end, dealing with kids getting older and the emotions and experiences that come with that won’t always be easy, but being there for them and guiding them to make the best possible decisions is all a parent can do.

“They will mess up and make the wrong choices. Our job is not to let them fall too far or make life-altering choices,” says Kreier. “Also, be a parent, not a friend. You have time to be friends when they are grown and established. They need direction and guidance.”