What Age to Start Dating?

What Age to Start Dating?

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:

Group Dating
Before 9 p.m. Ages 11-13 (includes school dances, early movies, or other adult chaperoned events)

Double Dating
Weekend curfew: 10-11 p.m. Ages 14-15 (includes movies, dances, some unchaperoned events)

Single Dating
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)

Helping Teens Deal with Heartbreak

Helping Teens Deal with Heartbreak

originally published on April 16, 2001; updated May 15, 2021

Dear Sex Ed Mom,
My shy, 17-year-old son has just been through two break ups and is suffering so. He is so depressed because he really loved the person he was dating. He doesn’t want to talk about it but I need to do something. What can I do?
–Mom of Brokenhearted

Dear Mom of Brokenhearted,
Ah yes, this is probably the toughest part of parenting — watching your kids have their hearts broken. Almost everyone has gone through this and unfortunately there is no magic cure or pill you can give to your son. He will need to grieve and may not want to talk to anyone about it for a while. That doesn’t mean you just have to sit back and watch him suffer though. Here are some suggestions that might help your son to heal faster and eventually snap him out of his depression.

Explain the situation to your son’s father or another adult male whom your son has a close relationship. Ask him if he would be willing to talk to your son about the relationship break ups he went through as a teen and beyond (maybe he could even take your son to a movie to get him out of the house). This will help your son realize that he is not alone; break ups happen to everyone. He will also see that he will survive to love again; just as his dad (or adult male friend) did.

Once your son is ready to talk to you about it, you should also share with him the break ups you went through as a teen or adult. (Of course if you didn’t have any, it is okay to share another person’s story).

Sharing and passing on break up stories can also be introduced to younger kids when you first start discussing what dating is all about. This way, they might be a little better prepared for future break ups. And they will remember that when relationships end it can be a difficult process, but one most of us survive and learn from.

Thanks for the great question and I’ll be thinking “heart mending” thoughts for your son.