As you watch the kids spill out of your local Middle School building after school, you’re bound to see more than a few who are holding hands or have their arms around one another. Your first reaction might be: Dating? Already? But they seem so young! And of course, they are. But what is the appropriate age for teens to start dating? Is it different than when we were that age?
An NBC Today Show segment titled “Are They Mature Enough?” discussed survey results from a variety of parenting questions, including this one: “At what age is it okay to date?” The respondents overwhelmingly chose 16 (74%) as the appropriate age, followed by 14 (23%).
As parents, it can be hard to know where to set the limits. Is there an appropriate age to start dating? How do we initiate the conversation, and what are some of the topics we should be prepared to discuss? Here’s what our expert had to say:
Dating At 14? Dating at 16? What’s The Right Answer?
What age should teenagers start dating? It’s one of the trickiest parenting questions. No wonder parents get gray hairs and are so confused. As both a mother and a clinical psychologist, I too struggle with the correct response to this question.
There is no right answer. I personally think that 14 is a bit young and that 16 seems more appropriate. But first, we need to educate our kids about dating. We need to teach them about love, liking, sexuality, and emotionality. We also need to teach them about sexuality and risk-taking. It’s important to teach them about the delicate parameters of dating including when to say yes or no to physicality and sex. We need to talk about how to judge their readiness for getting involved in relationships.
It’s About What’s Best For Your Particular Teen
Additionally, we need to be ready to set parameters and limits about when they must be home and how often they should check in with us when they are on dates. And, this applies to both our sons AND daughters. We must let them know that dating is complicated and that we are available to talk to them about the intricacies of dating. If we are uncomfortable talking to our kids about dating then perhaps we need to deal with this before we allow them to date. After all, we are responsible for both the hearts and souls of our developing children.
In conclusion, there is no right age. Instead, we must look at both our own comfort level and our teen’s comfort level when discussing all matters related to dating. And, if it is still a dreadfully uncomfortable topic, then the time isn’t right yet. And 14-year-olds would be better served engaging in matters that don’t involve the body, heart, and soul. Sixteen is not a magic age either unless you and your teen are ready to talk about the ins and outs of dating.
Good luck and think hard about this issue.
Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens, children, and families. She is the co-author of Teenage As A Second Language (Adams Media). She writes and consults for several publications and frequently appears on TV. You can find her work on her website drbarbaragreenberg.com