5 Things to Remember When Your Teen Starts Dating

As the dad of four children in their late teens and early twenties, I’ve learned two things about teenage dating: It can be incredibly awkward for teens, and it’s often even more awkward for dads. After all, suddenly you’re not just worried about whether she’ll get her homework done or why he doesn’t talk about anything. Now you’re wondering about sex and boundaries and so many things that you don’t know if you’re ready for, let alone if your kid is.

But in spite of all that, you can walk with your teen well during this time. Here are 5 things to remember when your teen starts dating.

1. Talk to your teen—a lot.

Teens are notoriously averse to talking with their parents. That’s all the more reason to prioritize talking to your teen when she starts dating. Ask questions about what she sees in him and what they do together. Listen when she goes on about things you might find silly, because they aren’t silly to her. Do your best to suspend your judgment on things that don’t matter so she’ll be more willing to share with you about things that do. Teenage dating is full of challenges; don’t make talking to you more challenging than it needs to be.

2. You still get to, and need to, set boundaries.

You will have reservations about decisions your teen makes about dating. He wants to drive her an hour away to this great spot, or he thinks he should be able to crash on her couch on the weekend, or he wants her to come over when you’re not home. Whatever it is, you still get to, and need to, set boundaries. You’re the parent. If you’re uncomfortable with something, say so. If you think something is inappropriate, you get to say no to it. No, you won’t be the “cool” parent, but you may help your teen avoid messy situations that he is unable to foresee for himself.

3. It feels more serious to them than it is. Respect that.

You know how incredibly fragile teenage dating relationships are. You’ve lived it. Your teen has not. She thinks he might be the one, and they’ve been dating for about two weeks. You do want to gently encourage her to take it slow and to guard her heart. But you need to do it respectfully. Making fun of her or rolling your eyes when she talks about him will not win you trust. In fact, it could end up pushing her to double down on her expectations of him in ways that cause even more pain if they do break up. You can and should kindly offer perspective to your kids, but you need to do so respectfully.

You can and should kindly offer perspective to your kids, but you need to do so respectfully.

4. Do your best to build a relationship with the girlfriend/boyfriend.

I know you expect this relationship will last about two weeks. And you might be right. But do your best to build a relationship with your teen’s significant other anyway. If you can build rapport with his girlfriend, he’s much more likely to involve you in conversations about how the relationship is going. You’ll also be able to see how they treat each other and offer input that can help him navigate this relationship, as well as future relationships, better. And, of course, if you want to continue to grow in your relationship with your child over the years, building relationships with the people he cares about will be an incredibly helpful tool.

5. Don’t live vicariously through your teen.

Look, I know sticking with the same girl you dated since eighth grade worked out well for you, or that you really regret not asking out that cheerleader, but your teen is not you. He needs to figure out who he is and what he wants in a relationship. You certainly have a lot to offer him in terms of wisdom, but his relationship is unique to him. Walk with him, encourage him, pray for him, but don’t live vicariously through him. His path will, and should, be different from yours. He needs you, but he also needs you to let him be himself.

Sound off: What other things do dads need to remember when their teenager starts dating?

Check out the All Pro Dad team discuss this more on this podcast episode:

Huddle up with your teen and ask, “What do you think are some of the good things about dating? What are some potential problems?”