Dear Dr. G.,
The time that I've dreaded has just arrived. My 12-yea- old daughter has asked me when she can start dating. I wasn't allowed to date until I was 18 because I had very strict parents. I didn't sneak around and date either, because I didn't want to get into trouble with my parents. Let's just say that I was sort of a goody two shoes and didn't want to upset my parents.
Fast forward to 2014. I am now a mother of a 12-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. Last week, the 12-year-old asked when she can start dating. I was shocked that she would even think about the concept of dating at such a young age. My husband and I have been discussing the answer to our daughter's question and we just don't know the right answer. I don't want to be overly protective and strict like my parents were, but I also don't want to be too permissive. By the way, my husband was a late bloomer and started dating at 19.
A Confused Mother
I completely understand why you are confused. First, the definition of dating is different these days than it was when you and your husband were younger. In the past, a young man, usually a teenage boy, would come to a teenage girl's house and take her on an actual date, which might include something like a movie AND a curfew. The definition of dating has changed these days. Middle school kids sometimes say they are dating when actually all they are doing is texting or even communicating via Facebook or in some other electronic manner. Teens in high school may define dating as being exclusive with each other physically, which means that they don't "hook up" with anyone else. Yet other teens do go on dates with each other that are somewhat more formal, where one member of the couple picks up the other one in a car for an afternoon or evening together that has been pre-planned.
The first order of business with your kids should be to ask them to define what they mean by dating. If they are referring to actually spending time alone with their date, then I have to say that around the age of 16 seems to be the magic number. And, you must make it clear what your rules and expectations are other than age. You and your husband need to address the following:
2. Issues around sexuality
3. Whether or not they are permitted to drive with their date
4. Making good choices
5. Use of alcohol and drugs on dates
6. Not forgetting to maintain friendships while dating
7. Keeping you informed about their whereabouts and changes in plans
Having said all of the above, I must tell you that I think that dating serves a very important purpose. Teens learn to negotiate their feelings and relationships while they are still young and under your roof. As we all know, relationships and healthy dating take a lot of practice and trial and error. Make sure to act interested, but not too interested in your teen's dating life with the hope that they will open up to you if they run into difficulties. Good luck with this tricky but important issue.