Parents often wonder when should kids be allowed to date, and this is a complex judgment call that may be influenced by cultural practice, religious beliefs and simply, parental values. Much depends in considering whether you allow your kids to date, and at what age, and also how you define dating. Some parents have a set age in mind, and feel that kids should not be able to date until that time. Others take into account the maturity of their children and what is meant by "date," while others request that kids be allowed to go on dates only if they’ve met certain requirements or safety standards.
Some parents argue that kids be allowed to date when they get asked or ask someone to date, but research suggests you do set some limitations on age, the type of dates, and the level of supervision. The US Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, recommends that kids be allowed to date only if you know their date, possibly know the date’s family, and make sure your child understands certain rules about dating. Such rules could include the following:
- 1. Your child should be able to call you at any time to be picked up from a date.
2. No date is okay when anyone, the child’s date or another person is using alcohol or drugs.
3. Your child is fully aware that he or she alone has the right to refuse any level of intimacy suggested by the date, whether it’s holding hands or having sex.
4. You expect your child to honor rules regarding staying at the place where the date will take place and returning home at the stated hour.
5. Your child agrees to never get in a vehicle operated by someone who has used either alcohol or drugs, even if that person insists they are “okay” to drive.
It’s also important considering when should kids be allowed to date that you set some rules about the types of dates kids can have. For instance, you may prefer that a child only “date” by having a friend over to your home where you can chaperone, or you may want to make sure that the child’s date is willing to provide the same level of awareness if your child is at his/her date’s home. Getting to know a child’s date, and the date’s family before the child actually goes anywhere alone with this person is a good idea.
A middle road may be reached where you allow group dates, double or triple dates or more, instead of allowing “alone” dates, or alternately when your child wishes to attend a school-sponsored activity that has some safety features built in. For instance, you may think 13 or 14 year olds are to young to date, but you might have no problem with them attending a dance held at a school where there is maximum chaperonage and no possibility of leaving the dance until it is over.
It might also be a good idea to decide “dates” on a case-by-case basis. You might not have an issue with a child dating someone who is a year or two older, but you may have huge problems with your 14 year old dating an 18 year old. Continue to assess relationships children form, and look for problem issues like a child involved in a violent relationship, which is not at all uncommon in teen dating.
In all cases, do some reading, consider the maturity of your child and what they’re actually defining as dating. To a 12 year old “dating” might mean attending a school dance and talking on the phone a lot. To a 16 year old dating may mean something very different. Whatever you decide, and especially if your rules are strict, expect that your child may call you strict and be unfriendly to your attitude. That is okay, as many therapists are fond of asserting. Your role to your child is first to be the parent and set the rules, even when they are unpopular.