originally published on March 19, 2001; updated May 22, 2021
Dear Sex Ed Mom,
My 13-year-old wants to know when they can start dating IRL (“in real life”); isn’t this a bit young? I didn’t start in-person dating until I was 16 and I don’t want my kids to date IRL until then either. But the times are changing, and I don’t want to be a prude. Should I let them date IRL earlier?
–IRL Dating Dilemma
Dear IRL Dating Dilemma,
Yes, the times are always changing. It seems like kids today want a lot more freedom and at an earlier age than we did. But that doesn’t mean they are automatically more responsible and able to handle difficult social situations any better than we were. It’s still our job as parents to provide protection and guidance to our kids. While the dating issue usually causes parents a great deal of angst and fear, it also presents an excellent opportunity to help our kids become more independent and to develop healthy decision-making skills.
Below are some of my suggestions for establishing IRL dating rules:
Discuss what dating is and its purpose early on — around ages 7-9.
Breakdown the different types of dating and discuss with your pre-teen what age they think they should be allowed to engage in the different types of dating, and why they think that is a good age. You may be able to compromise until you can agree on an age range.
Agree to revisit the “dating rules” later — they may need to be renegotiated.
Talk to other parents to find out what their household dating rules are (this will especially help when you hear, “But, Sage’s parents let them date …”).
Stick with your rules (and consequences of breaking them) regardless of what your child’s friends parents are supposedly doing.
I also recommend allowing a gradual level of freedom when it comes to dating instead of having one set age for all types of dating. Here is a sample of “dating rules” you might like to review when developing your own rules:
Before 9 p.m. Ages 11-13 (includes school dances, early movies, or other adult chaperoned events)
Weekend curfew: 10-11 p.m. Ages 14-15 (includes movies, dances, some unchaperoned events)
Weekend curfew: midnight-1 a.m. Ages 16+
As your child is allowed to participate in different types of dating you will set up more specific rules about curfew, meeting the person(s) they will be out with first, when to call or text you, etc.
Be sure to let me know the dating rules that you and your daughter come up with together. Have fun compromising (or not).
P.S. It is also important to be up to speed on the latest lingo and acronyms that youth now use for dating, sex and relationships. I learned a lot from this fact-checked, online resource for parents: Making Sense of Teen Dating Lingo (VeryWellFamily.com)