Q: Our 14-year-old daughter wants to start “hanging out” with a boy from her class. She says she is responsible, but I’m not quite sure any 14-year old is mature enough to handle dating. How young is too young to start dating?
A: The question of when a teen should start dating is certainly a well debated topic in households. The age of 16 has typically been the traditional age, which recent generations have dubbed the best time for teens to start dating. It is the age that many parents feel their teens can handle the responsibilities and risks associated with dating.
Rather than looking at age, I’ve always preferred to look at the responsibility and maturity level of the teen in question. Is she responsible with her homework, grades, household responsibilities and extracurricular activities? Is your daughter honest, trustworthy and emotionally stable? If your child follows through on what she says, has good relationships with her peers and has friends who are good role models, she may be able to manage a dating relationship as well.
One alternative to think about is group dating. Group dating means that a group of teens go out together rather than two teens going out alone as a couple. This group arrangement takes the pressure off of teens being in a one-on-one situation by providing the security and accountability of a group.
Both mom and dad can use this as an opportunity to discuss healthy relationships and boundaries with your daughter. Talk to her about the qualities of healthy dating relationships and how they should start with the same things that healthy friendships start with: good communication, honesty and respect. Discuss what your daughter’s expectations of a relationship are and what boundaries she has. Talk to your daughter about how in healthy relationships, both people have friendships and interests outside the relationship.
The ultimate decision is something that parents have to decide for themselves, but hopefully this gives you some ideas to help you reach a decision that is best for your family.
Christina Hoferer, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker based in Newport Beach, specializing in children, adolescents, and families. Christina Hoferer can be found at www.proactivecounseling.com