When Teens Start Dating - Tips For Parents

Many parents have fears when their teens start dating. These fears are often based on the fact that their teens are becoming adults, and parents worry about having less control or influence over them.

It's not that parents are control-freaks or always want to be in charge. It's simply hard to let go and trust that when teens start dating they will do so responsibly and avoid the well-known pitfalls.

Here are some tips to help you through this time, particularly if it's a scary one for you.

There's no substitute for communication, so work on having a positive, friendly, open relationship. Strangle fear thoughts at birth, as these will 'communicate' to your teens - and when teens start dating there's nothing that puts them off more than fearful parents!

Believe it or not, although your teens may think you are an old fuddy-duddy, you know more about dating than them. They may think they know it all, but since their information is gathered from the media, deep down they're not really sure of themselves. They know that what they read and see on 'teen programs' is not the real world. It's fantasy, meant for entertainment, not for education.

So they'll appreciate a little advice from a friendly quarter. If you've worked on your relationship with them, that 'quarter' will be you. And remember you don't always influence others by speech alone. Actions speak louder than words, and if you role-model a positive relationship with your partner, your teens are more likely to be influenced by that.

Some parents think that when their teens start dating, the parent's job is done. Of course it's not. Ongoing support and advice are necessary. Keep emphasizing the respect aspect of dating: your teens should treat their dates with respect, and should expect the same treatment in return.

Problems and hitches will arise. The best thing any teen could wish for is a non-prying helper who can give comfort, support and advice. Let that be you!

If all goes well, the time will come when your teen wants to bring his or her date home. Most parents - and dare I say it, mothers - want to scrutinize every aspect of their teenager's new friend. When teens start dating they are obviously nervous about meeting each other's parents and family, so try to control the critical eye and be welcoming and supportive. That way the visitor will become more relaxed, so you'll get a much clearer picture!

Never embarrass the young couple by laying down the law about dating. If you have been communicating openly, that will have been covered in private between you and your teens. Remember, your role now is to let go, but be there as a 'guardian angel' figure.

If you take an instant dislike to the newcomer, examine your feelings very carefully. What your teens look for in a relationship may be totally different from your wishes, and you may have to respect their judgment. If the other person has faults, trust that your kids will have the ability to help, or end the relationship if it's not working.

Obviously parents do not want to see an abusive or unhealthy relationship when their teens start dating, and if you see clear signs of this, then talk about it - but tactfully and supportively.

There's no denying it can be hard for parents when teens start dating, but you can relax and know that all will be well if you:

model the type of relationship you want them to have
work on clear communication.

Frank McGinty is an author and a teacher specializing in Personal & Social Development. Together with his wife, Grace, he also runs a 'Family Life' website, catering for a wide variety of family interests and concerns. For their f.ree report on 'Raising Assertive Children' visit >

New Baby and Meddling Mother-in-Law

The following is a letter written to a clinical psychologist along with her response. Enjoy!

Dear Dr. J

I've been married for about two years. When I first met my in-laws, I really liked them. Joe's mother seemed really interested in me and supportive of me too! Three months ago, we had our son, Brian. It's been pure hell since the baby was born. My mother lives in another state, so I asked Joe's mother if she would like to come and stay to help me with the baby. She came and just took over! Every time I tried to bathe Brian or feed him (thank god I breast fed and she couldn't take over on that too!), she told me how to do it and how I was doing everything wrong!

I tried to talk to Joe about it, but he loves his mom and always defends her when I try to tell him how I feel. At the end of one week after the baby was born, she left, but I just can't stand her now! She calls all the time and wonders about the baby, but she's still butting her nose in and trying to be the authority on MY baby!

We have always had Joe's parents and my parents up for a week each in the summer time. I do not want Joe's parents to visit this year! I just dread having my mother-in-law here criticizing me all the time. Joe says he understands, but has put his foot down about not having his parents visit. He wants me to accept things as they are and not make a big deal about it. I will be a nervous wreck having to bite my tongue all the time.

Joe doesn't know this, but I've started to screen phone calls. When it's his mother, I just don't answer. Help!


Dear Mary

This is a pretty common problem, but a painful one. It is very important for you to get a handle on this conflict with your mother-in-law asap! You say you liked your mother-in-law before and that you felt her attention to you was supportive and positive. This is good because, underneath this conflict, you have good feelings about your in-laws. You don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this.

It's not that you want no contact with them, you just don't
want your mother-in-law trying to be the mother. Sometimes it seems easier to be rather black and white about something like this, but the answer is slightly more grey than that. It will
require ongoing boundary setting with your mother-in-law around her role as a grandmother. And, for that, you must get your husband on board.

Sit down with Joe at a time when you are not upset. You can use my response as an opener if you like. The main point is that you and Joe need to be on the same page with this. Otherwise, he will feel caught in the middle between you and his mother, and this is not good! You will end up feeling alone and you may get more and more angry and agitated and try to set rigid and punitive boundaries with your in-laws. This would be a big mistake. Your son can only benefit from his contact with his grandparents. He needs these relationships with extended family. So, you must put his needs before your own on this. And, if you don't get this resolved, it will also have a negative impact on your marriage.

The goal in the talk with Joe is to develop a plan where BOTH of you talk to his mother. In fact, it might be better for Joe to take the lead since it is his mother. He needs to support
you on this, but he also needs to consider the feelings of his parents. Just be sure you and Joe talk it out and know what your agenda is and then talk to his parents, maybe when they come to visit.

My suggestion is to wait and see how they interact when they arrive. Sometimes grandparents can be overbearing when a new baby has arrived, and tend to back off later. If it's still a problem, be sure to tell them how much you enjoy having them in Brian's life and what good grandparents they are. Then ask for the behavior changes you would like.

Avoid making accusatory and blaming statements. It might sound something like this, "We realize you and dad have a lot more parenting experience than we do, and we would like to
be able to ask you for advice. But we would like to take the lead with Brian. We have thought a lot about how we want to raise him, and we have our own ideas about parenting. If we need to, can we then ask you for advice? We may want to do some things differently than you did, and most things will probably be the same. But if you wait for us to ask, we won't feel that you are trying to tell us what to do." Use your own words, but be direct and make sure they understand your boundaries.

Dr. J

Jennifer J. Sowle, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Licensed Marriage and FamilyTherapist. She is also an AASECT Certified Sex Educator and Sex Therapist. Dr. Sowle has a private practice in Northern Michigan.

Dr. Sowle’s website, http://here-to-listen.com, explores psychological issues like: Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Eating Disorders. She also gives information on relationships, such as conflict resolution, managing family finances, communication techniques, divorce, parenting, and sexuality. She helps in talking to your children about sex and sexual abuse and also addresses stress, anger management, and gay and lesbian issues. Regular features are “Ask Dr. J” and “Can This Relationship Be Saved?”

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