How to talk with your teenager about dating

Navigating the teen dating world can be scary for both parents and teens. Having open conversations about relationships is crucial to your child’s success and safety.

Help them understand red flags of an abusive relationship like emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Teach them that mature love usually takes time and is based on respect, trust, fairness and equality.

Ask open-ended questions

Whether it’s about dating or other life choices, teenagers need to know that their parents are open-minded and supportive. Avoid prompting your children with questions they are already aware of or giving your own answers.

Help your teen distinguish infatuation from love by asking them about their relationship goals and values. Explain that mature love takes time and commitment and that if someone is trying to change their partner or need constant reassurance from them, they are likely infatuated.

Talking about relationships is not easy for anyone, but it’s important to teach teens how to have safe and healthy ones. For more tips on talking to your teenager about dating, visit Loveisrespect’s Parent Resource Center. They also have a 24/7 helpline that can connect you to a trained crisis counselor.

Ask about their friends

Your teen will likely have a variety of relationships in their life, including coworkers, friends, teammates and romantic partners. Encourage them to talk openly about these relationships with you, and be a nonjudgmental listener.

It’s important that your teen understands the difference between infatuation and love, so discuss how they know when someone is right for them. Also, be sure to talk about peer pressure and how they can stand up for their values.

Finally, if you have any rules or expectations regarding your teen dating, now is the time to set those up. Having these conversations now can avoid awkward confrontations later. For example, you could talk about things like curfews, who they can go out with and what types of communication you expect them to have with their dates.

Ask about their interests

A big part of dating can be getting to know someone, and asking questions is one way to do that. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t pester or pry, but rather ask open-ended questions from a place of curiosity and concern.

It’s also a good idea to talk about your own values in relationships, like communication, trust, respect, and equality. This can help your teen set healthy expectations for themselves and their future relationships.

It’s also a good idea to let your teen know what you consider appropriate boundaries and stipulations for dating, such as curfews, restrictions on who they date, and who will pay for dates. Be sure to do so in a non-judgmental, loving way—flipping out on your teen is “the surest way to get them hiding things from you in the future,” warns Sharma.

Ask about their values

Discussing your family values related to relationships, like respect, honesty, fairness and equality can help your teen develop healthy relationship habits. It’s important to teach your teen about the importance of these traits before they begin dating.

Avoid trivializing your teen’s crush or their first relationship with others by asking them questions that would be inappropriate for adults, such as “Do you think you will marry this person?”

Help your teen understand that love takes time. Explain that infatuation is easy to mistake for mature love, and if they find themselves wanting to control their partner or needing constant reassurance, they may be more infatuated than in love. This is a red flag that could lead to an unhealthy relationship. Also, tell them that breakups hurt and it’s normal to feel grief at the end of a relationship.

Ask about their goals

It’s important that you talk to your teenager about what they expect from their partners. It helps to manage expectations ahead of time so that if something goes wrong, your teen knows how to handle it.

Help them understand that love takes time, and that it’s possible to confuse infatuation with true love. Explain that if they find themselves looking for ways to “fix” their partner, trying to control them or their decisions, or needing constant reassurance from their partner, they are likely infatuated rather than in love.

It’s also a good idea to talk to your teen about relationship red flags and dating violence, and make sure they know that you will support them if they choose to end a relationship that isn’t working for them.