What Parents Should Know about Tween Dating

Understanding the risks of preteen dating

If your tween wants to date, you'll have to set limits.
Tween dating poses risks that every parent should understand.. Photo: mcjudwick, Pond5.com

How old were you when you began dating? Sixteen? Fourteen? Maybe you postponed dating until your later teenage years, or even college. But that's not the way things work anymore. Today, children are beginning to date at very young ages, but there are risks involved. If your tween wants to date, here's what you should know about dating, and tween attitudes about relationships.

What Tweens Think About Dating

What do tweens think about dating and growing up?

Gone are the days when tween dating meant holding hands, giggling, and splitting ice cream sundaes at the local soda shop. Today's tweens have been exposed to an unprecedented number of images of sexual activity through television, the movies, video games, and the Internet. And those images are having an impact on tween behavior.

According to a recent study, conducted by Liz Claiborne and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, tween attitudes about dating are not as innocent as you might think. In fact, they're shocking. The study revealed that nearly one in three tweens say they have been in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Sadly, more than one in four of those tweens say that having sex is a part of tween dating. But you don't have to sit by and let society dictate what your tween should think about dating, and dating safety. You're still the parent, and can set limits, rules and make consequences for your child should your rules be ignored.

The tips below should help. 

What Parents Can Do -- Setting Limits

It's no wonder parents of tweens worry about the dangers of tween dating. But there are ways to help your child understand dating limits, and appropriate behavior.

  • Talk. One discussion won't be enough to help your tween understand your family values and your expectations. Seize any moment your tween presents to you, answering questions he or she might have. Also, make your viewpoints clear on the subject of kids, dating and what's appropriate behavior. For example, you could say, "It's fine to hold hands, but you're too young to kiss." Also, emphasize your family rules, such as whether or not your child's friend is allowed in her bedroom or alone in the house with her. Be specific, otherwise tweens will make up their own rules as they go.
    • Be Aware. Stay connected to other parents, so you know what's going on. If you hear about inappropriate activity, discuss the issue with your tween and ask what he or she thinks about that behavior. Keeping connections with other parents could be your best way of knowing what's going on with your tween and her social circle.
    • Set Limits. If you decide to allow your tween to date, be specific about your conditions. Will the tweens always have adult supervision? Where are the tweens permitted to go?
    • Don't Assume. Many of today's tweens and teens engage in group dating, but group dating isn't always a safety net. Ultimately, you are still responsible for supervising your child. 
    • Go on a Date. Take your tween on a first date to model good behavior. Explain the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Let your child know that you're always there to discuss issues that are important to her, and that you expect to be informed about your child's social life. If you keep the doors of communication open, you are likely to be included in important discussions, and events in your child's life. 

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