10 Questions for When Your Teen Starts Dating
Breathe! You knew it was only a matter of time, but the day is finally here when you learn your teen wants to date—or has already started.
Now, reasonable people could disagree about what an appropriate definition for “dating” would be, but for the sake of clarity in this article, allow me to define it as “the ongoing experience of mutual romantic interest with a peer.”
After all, even if teens are not engaging in the typical dinner-and-a-movie date nights, they are very likely communicating extensively by text or through social media and socializing frequently.
For the parent who has concerns about their child being involved in a romantic relationship, I’ve consulted the research literature [1, 2, 5, 6] as well as the written opinions of some psychologists [3, 4] to compile this list of 10 open-ended questions to ask your teen when he or she begins to date.
1. What is your definition of dating? Or, what would you like to call it?
Let’s face it: staying fluent in Gen Z lingo would be a full time job. So save yourself the hassle and just start by defining the terms. Understand that you and your teen may have wildly different definitions of “dating” so skipping this step would be building your dialogue on a weak foundation.
2. What are your expectations of dating? How would your like to be treated by your partner?
This is a nice way to make sure that your teen has put thought into what dating really means on an individual level. It also allows you to reinforce answers you feel are adaptive and will be conducive towards the sort of relationship you’d like to see your teen enjoy. For example, if your daughter says “hmm… well I hadn’t thought about it much, but I definitely expect him not to date anyone else!” it gives you the opportunity to say “Oh I agree! Have the two of you talked about that yet?” This conversational flow subverts the typical parent-child/teacher-listener dynamic that teens often begin to resent.
3. What boundaries do you plan on setting in your relationship?
It can be so difficult to hold back and avoid directly telling a teen what to do. After all, that is a very workable dynamic for young children. You have years of experience instructing your child — it’s very comfortable.
However, teens begin to see their place in the world as semi-autonomous and can get resentful when they don’t feel that viewpoint is shared by their parent(s). To avoid triggering this dynamic, start with a question such as the one above and gently guide their answers instead of simply instructing from the get-go.
4. What do you think are fair rules for me to put in place regarding your dating (e.g. curfew, driving, expenses)? What kind of dates do you feel are appropriate?
They say that you should never make the first offer in a negotiation. Similarly, allow your teen to describe what rules they think are fair and then gently build from there. While I wouldn’t be so naïve as to promise anything, you might be surprised at how reasonable teens can be, especially when you’ve set the tone for an open dialogue.
5. What interested you in this person and what do you admire about them?
Now, we move into the “get to know you” questions. The important thing to remember here is to receive answers with warmth, no judgment, and genuine interest. It’s not crucial what first interested your teen in his or her partner. But it is important to make conversation about your teen’s romantic interests and behaviors.
It probably feels awkward for your teen to talk to their parent(s) about dating. Don’t let this awkwardness keep you from doing it. Show your teen that you’re present, interested, supportive, and a good source of wisdom!
6. What do your friends think of this person?
I couldn’t find any empirical research on this so I will give it an opinion warning disclaimer. Be wary of the romantic interest that is disliked by your teen’s friends.
7. When can we have this person over for dinner?
Another opinion warning: I think a parent’s gut is probably more helpful than a dozen parenting blogs. But how can you make use of your gut if you’re not present? Have your teen’s romantic interest over for dinner — frequently.
You don’t need to treat them like a son- or daughter-in-law, just be friendly, get to know them, and use your gut. Lastly, and I’m not really sure how to put this delicately, but don’t make things uncomfortable. Jokes about grandkids, wedding bells, and shotguns are not going to land well .
8. Do you feel safe around this person?
Unfortunately, approximately 10% of boys and 20% of girls report being victims of teen dating violence. Feeling safe is one of the absolute non-negotiable aspects of a working romantic relationship [4, 6].
9. Have you had the opportunity to work through conflict with this person yet and what is your strategy for doing so moving forward?
Questions like these give you and your teen the opportunity to prepare the harsh reality that close relationships are not always easy. Research tells us that for teen dating relationships, the most important conflict resolution tactic is the skill of perspective-taking . As the parent, you probably know if your teen has developed the ability to take others’ perspectives yet. And if not, they may not be ready to adaptively manage the inevitable conflict inherent with a close relationship.
10. What would be potential red flags that could warn you about the relationship taking a turn for the worse and what sort of behaviors would be absolute deal breakers for you?
Just as it’s important to know what we’re looking for in a partner, it’s important to know what we’re not looking for. You know that romantic relationships are not all sunshine and roses, but in the early stages of dating, your teen may be somewhat infatuated and find it impossible to imagine their partner doing anything wrong. It’s important to make sure that your teen has a clear picture of what kind of behavior would be unacceptable (E.g. infidelity, violence, crossing boundaries, etc.)
Furthermore, assertiveness in adolescence is shown to be a significant predictor of romantic relationship satisfaction later in life. Invest in your child’s long-term happiness by demonstrating assertiveness and making sure they know they have to right to be assertive with their romantic partner.