We are all familiar with the public service announcements almost begging parents to talk to their children about drugs, alcohol, internet safety, sex and safe driving. Have you ever wondered why aren’t parents encouraged to talk about love and dating? We know that when parents talk to their children about smoking and share their values about sex or alcohol that they can influence kids to make better choices. We should also be reminded to teach our children about healthy relationsips, courtesy in dating, and how to protect themselves.
Almost ¾ of all 8th graders are dating and more than half of them will experience some form of dating violence (either emotional, physical, or sexual). Dating and healthy relationships should become a major lesson for our children before sending them out to find a partner. In a world filled with distorted images of love and intimacy- ranging from unrealistic fairy tale romances to sexually explicit- our children need guidance now more than ever.
Previously, your dating advice may only have consisted of telling your child to wait and have sex after marriage or when they fall in love. Stop to consider all the other endless questions you have now introduced, but are not providing answers for.
When will I know I am in love? Is sex something I should be offering to everyone I think I am in love with? What if I never marry? What if I am in love, but don’t want to? What if they are in love, but I am not? What if sex makes me not love them anymore or makes them not love me? Is sex the only way to show or prove my love? How will I know if it is better to have sex now or wait till I am married? Should I be dating people I think I want to have sex with?
And don’t forget about all the questions that are not being considered. Do I have to date every one that asks? What would a date be like? Do I have to keep dating someone if I don’t like them? Do I only date one person all the time or can I date more than one person? How do I say no to someone I don’t want to date? Can I end a date if I am unhappy? What if my date or the place we go makes me uncomfortable?
So many teenagers and young adults today are creating relationships without any concrete ideas about what a “good’ relationship is really like. They may be basing their realationships on temporary supports instead of lasting ones or they may feel they are not dating properly if they are not in a solid relationship within a certain time or at all. Many go out into the dating world looking for a relationship that’s “not like their parents”. Either growing up with parents who do not seem to truly love or like one another or in single parent households, children may find themselves creating a list of dont’s without ever considering what they do want. Even children that grow up in homes with two parents who have a healthy relationship are struggling to really define what it is they are seeking in a partner.
Setting a good example is the best lesson. Our children, even the teenagers, take their cues from us. If we are not providing a reliable example they turn to the world; scary thought! Happily married couples may begin a heated discussion as the kids walk in the room, but table it until everyone is in bed. Children do not need exposure to every disagreement and they need to learn to keep their disagreements private, but if they never see you work through an argument then how do they learn what conflict resolution really looks like?Married couples should continue dating regularly and make their children aware of their dating. Going out as a family is a perfect time to publicly display the courtesies of dating for your children to observe. Single parents may be dating but exclude their children from the process. Of course you can’t have your teenage son picking out your next boyfriend, but you can talk with him about the qualities in a man that would make him a good mate. Regardless of the status of our own love life, our children need to hear from us about what a loving, mutually satisfying relationship is about.