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When Should Dating Start?

            Parents of every generation are shocked when the subject of dating first comes up. Some kids will start probing a parent’s resistance before they are 12 or 13 while others just drift into their own social habits by the time they get to high school.

            The trouble comes from the details. Curfews, cars, the activity, and the friends involved. Kids think in terms of black and white, “Will doing this or that be dangerous?” If it’s not immediately life threatening, parents should have no objection. And if parents suggest that anything could go wrong, the kids say the parents don’t trust them.

            Parents consider more of the risks and possibilities. What could happen and what is reasonable at this early age? Once again it’s a teenager preoccupied with “Me” taking all restrictions very personally, while the parent is trying to teach the teen about worldly risks.

            Most pre-teens are not ready to even think about these serious questions. So until they are well into high school, the rules should not change. No outings without trusted older adult transportation. No evening “hanging out” – with or without the opposite sex.

            Lucky for us West Virginians we have a helpful 30-page booklet from the West Virginia Department of Education called “Trust Betrayed.” It can help teens come to some healthy attitudes about what is a good relationship and the signals of a bad one. Without the preparation of exploring and knowing your own feelings, dating may be only a fantasy to keep you popular with the crowd. That means it’s too early for dating whatever the age.

            When my oldest daughter, Pam, was 17, I asked her how her date had gone. “Not good. He introduced me as PAT! He hadn’t even taken the trouble to get my name straight. We spent the whole evening talking about himself. He never asked me a single question about me.”

            Pam recognized the signs of trouble. And at 17 she knew enough about herself to make good decisions. Teens at younger ages may think that a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all. With this idea in mind a “child” will put up with a lot.

            Questions and stories help keep communication flowing.            Dad:”How was the date?”

           Todd:”OK, but Jennifer and I just don’t get along so well anymore.”

            Dad:”You’re having some rough spots now.”

            Todd:”Yeah, she likes those horror movies.  We always seem to do her thing.”

            Dad:”What did she think of your new shirt?”

            Todd:”OK, I guess. She didn’t say.  Sounds like she doesn’t care, doesn’t it?”

            Dad:”A little.”  Dad’s listening helped and when Todd is ready, he’ll find someone who cares more.

            “Trust Betrayed” poses good questions for a church or school class. It brings out many danger signs that can help a young person recognize trouble and know themselves well enough to exit bad situations.

            One way parents can learn about how prepared their teen is for the dating scene is discussing the questions raised in this book.Ask your school librarian if the booklet is available at school. If not call the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 304-965-3552.

            Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. For more information see Parentsuccess.com.

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