Family & Friends

Recommendations Not Rules

How do you talk to your tween or teenager about the joys of dating?  When my son, who is now 21, started getting serious about ‘dating’ in his early teens, I prayed about how to communicate to him in a way that he would receive what I had to say.  I mean, come on, boys are kind of hard-headed as teenagers and I knew if I didn’t approach my advice for dating in a way that he would want to hear it, the advice would be lost on him.  The answer to that prayer was to treat him as a grown up as he entered into this grown-up realm.  
Dating is a pretty big deal after all!  It’s not always easy with a teenager – treating them as a grown-up when they may not be acting like one – but for this relationship-shaping endeavor, it’s the answer I received.  I truly believe that how I handled these communications laid a great foundation for the relationship he will have with his future wife one day … she can thank me later! LOL
I can’t tell you that I made all the right choices when I was younger.  I do remember that one summer fling that made my mother cringe.  I grew up in the late 80’s / early 90’s – you know, when holy jeans, heavy metal music and mullets were all the rage.  My mom survived me dating in this era – even though she probably thought she’d die when I brought that one boy home (and I’m absolutely certain, though he shall not be named, that she knows exactly which one I’m talking about, LOL).
So here I am again with my oldest daughter … well, at the brink I suppose.  She’s had one ‘friend who is a boy’ and she’ll be a teenager in less than a year so I know that it’s time to reiterate my recommendations, not rules, with her.  Truthfully, she can probably recite them back to me without hesitation.  She listened to her older brother and me talk about them often over his teenage dating days and she’s quite the sponge!
If you’ve also got a tween or teen and you want to know what my recommendations were, here they are in no particular order because I just brought them up as the situations / timing presented opportunity.

Our role as parents is to pour in the knowledge our children need to thrive as adults!
The rest is up to them but their chances of thriving are greater when we do our part well 😉
  • You start as friends, you end as friends
    • This actually was the first piece of advice I gave.  We truly have a ‘once family always family’ mentality.  My son will tell you that every girl he ever stopped dating knows this: that he would be there for them if they ever needed him, no matter what.  I taught my son that dating is getting to know each other on a deeper level  and sometimes a more serious level and that, should either or both of you decide that you’re not compatible down the road, there is no reason not to end your dating journey on good terms and return to being the friends you started out as
  • If you can’t trust each other, you’ve got no business being together
    • This seemed to present more so when Maverick’s girlfriends would question why he was still friendly with the ex-girlfriend(s).  Sigh.  Why we as women, at the youngest of ages, get these lack of trust tendencies is beyond me but I digress.  Maverick and I talked a lot about how I travel for work and leave his dad often and that if we didn’t trust each other, we’d go insane during those travels.  It’s not worth your sanity to stay in a relationship that’s going to take you to the brink of crazy every time you’re out of each other’s eye shot. 
  • It’s easy to sit on the couch in the living room with your parents and say that you won’t have sex but when you’re off alone for ten to fifteen minutes and your little teenage hormones are raging, remember that you are in control of your actions
    • Now, we told our son that it was his sole responsibility to ensure that he kept control of the physical intensity.  We very bluntly told him that girls would accuse him of not loving them; that some girls would tell him they were on the pill and it would be okay – even though they may not be; that some girls would get overly emotional if he said no and stopped at some point before sex happened .. that they may cry and guilt trip him or even get angry and become physically violent toward him.  We reminded him that it would only take once instance, one upset parent, and he could end up with a record that would haunt him for the rest of his life.  You might be thinking this is crazy but the reality is that every one of these situations was a very real possibility.   
    • For our daughter?   Well, we will tell her that it’s her sole responsibility to ensure that she keeps control of the physical intensity.  We will tell her not to put herself into situations where she ends up alone with a guy.  We will tell her never to drink out of a cup that she didn’t see get poured.  We will tell her never to drink out of a cup that she walked away from for any amount of time.  We started teaching her about how important the way she presented herself was, and that no meant no, when she was two.  Yes, two.  I’ll write another day about how we did that.  We also had her take some self defense classes last year and we’ll get her some refresher courses over the next year or two.  Again, you might be thinking these things are crazy but, God forbid anything should ever happen, I want to know that we did all we could to help her avoid the possibility. 
  • If you can’t have a serious, realistic, non-laughing conversation about the possible consequences of having sex with one another,  you’re not ready
    • I have a daughter, Cheridan, with special needs who commanded a lot of attention, especially in her younger years when my son, who is 11 years older, was dating.  I remember taking one of Maverick’s girlfriends on a family vacation to Canada with us.   We were in the hotel – my daughters, Amber (the then girlfriend) and me in one room with my husband and Maverick in another.  At that particular time, my youngest daughter was going through a ‘high pitched shriek to communicate’ stage.  Needless to say, it was NOT enjoyable.  I took a quick shower and asked Amber to keep an eye on Cheridan.  I remember standing in the shower listening to Amber repeatedly saying ‘Stop screaming Cheridan.  Cheridan, stop!’  So when we were fixing our hair, I had a conversation with her about the reality of having a child with special needs and how challenging it could be … and that I couldn’t imagine doing it at 15- or 16- years old and the only way to ensure that didn’t happen was to abstain. Now I love my daughter, unconditionally.  And I was thankful to see the light bulb of reality click on during that conversation and the retelling of it later with my son.  
  • Don’t break up through text, be adult about it
    • Dating is a grown up endeavor and, sadly, my son started dating right at the crescendo of the human losing their abilities to have verbal conversations with one another.  You might laugh or roll your eyes but it’s a sad reality!  Anyhow, we talked about how disrespectful it is to the other person to break up in a text.  If you’re going to discontinue dating someone, be forthright about why – tell it in a gentle way but tell it truthfully or you’re stealing the opportunity for growth from them, and possibly from yourself
  • If you get embarrassed at the thought of buying a condom, you’re not ready to have sex
    • We don’t condone sex before marriage with our children.  That being said, we also don’t live in a la-la land where we believe that they will never have it.  The reality is that we can teach them that sex should only come after a marriage license is on record but we can’t truly control what they choose to do – you know, peer pressure … free will … all those fabulous life interrupters. So, we chose to have conversations about making adult choices and being responsible in your actions should you choose to make an irresponsible decision to begin with
  • Spending time apart is critical to a healthy relationship
    • Somewhere I think there’s a teen dating manual that adults cannot access that tells teenagers they’re supposed to be stuck up each other’s tails all the time.  Ugh.  This one is pretty self explanatory and I was pretty proud of how Maverick remained true to himself, and his guy friends, even when he was dating throughout his teen years.  
Out in the world as an adult now!
Praying he calls on all that we poured in to him
so that he can thrive in his relationships
(and life) and not just survive

I watched my son heed these recommendations, and even share them with his friends.  He dated some pretty fabulous young ladies whom we still call family.  I’m praying as I dust these recommendations off to deliver them to my daughter that she will travel a similar journey!
What recommendations for dating did you give your teenagers when they were entering the dating realm? 

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