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When Your Teen Start Dating Just… Breath
Watching my firstborn go off on her first date was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I had to suck it up and realize that teen dating is a good thing. It was not like she took me by surprise or anything like that. For weeks, the name of this special VIG (very important guy) dominated her conversations. I could easily tell when he was the one she was texting by the goofy smile on her face and how giddy she got when she talked about him.
So yes, I had already been given time to get used to the idea of my 15-year-old daughter going on dates. That didn’t make it any easier though, just gave me time to fret, and to worry about the million and one things that could go wrong. Seeing how happy it made her eased a little of the anxiety, just a teeny bit of it. After all, I wanted her to be happy. It made me happy she was happy, but still a little confused at how confident she seemed about it all. I don’t remember being this confident when I went on my first date nor remember the build-up to dating being so lax then, either. A lot of things are so different now vs. then, though. Plus, to hear the teens talk, I am ancient. So, that may be why I can not remember. (wink)
Maybe it was the fact that we didn’t have cell phones back then, couldn’t talk with our prospective dates anytime of the day. Or else you had someone yelling that they wanted to use the phone or complaining about the bill you are running up. So a lot of getting to know your dates was done on the actual date. Not anymore. Now, they are always texting and talking thanks to cellphones. They get to know each other way before the VIG even shows up at the door. You can read our post on that subject here. Yes, we felt texting needed a whole post on its own.
Parents, you have to be ready to swallow the fact that it may look like they don’t need you at all. The world they live in so much more complex than the one we were in on our first date. Back then, your mom was the one to hold your hand and tell you that it would be all fine. Assure you that the butterflies in your stomach were a normal part of dating, even as your father ran through a mental checklist of do’s and don’ts. I can almost imagine some of you smiling as you remember your father practicing his menacing stare in the mirror, the one he plans on using to greet your date at the door.
Privacy is different
Back then, the parental intrusion was the accepted dating norm. Now, you have to wring as much information from them as possible patiently. Every look, every gesture means something, and you need to be patient, pay attention and pray for lots of luck to make sure you don’t miss a clue that may prove very useful in figuring out what your child is going through.
Another thing is to get to know who your child is going on a date with. I bet if I asked anyone who had a parent pick up the phone when a date called them at home to raise their hand, a lot of us would have to let go of the mouse or drop that cup of coffee or glass of wine. But there would be a lot less show of hands if I asked if any of us spoke to our children’s date before their first date.
Once again, another reason some of us yearn for the days of landlines. But it is critical that we know something about who you are handing your daughter or son, as the case may be, over too. Because even more than their physical safety, which is very, very important, we are also entrusting the emotional safety of our children into their hands. While this may not be a total guarantee that you would be able to stop anything bad from happening, it still allows you to get a feel for whoever it is.
Scary Dating Statistics
Let me throw a few statistics in the mix. According to a study carried out by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus on ‘Interpersonal and Physical D Violence among Teens that date,’ one in three girls in the US is a victim of emotional and verbal abuse from a partner they date in a single year. Scary right? Yes, I know.
It is even scarier to learn fifty-eight percent of parents could not correctly identify the signs of abuse, according to a study conducted by Teen Research Unlimited. That is why it is imperative to know your child’s partner, and even much more important to know your child. Because while it is a lot harder to vouch for and have credible knowledge of your child partner’s character, it is easier to know your kids. To know them so much that we can tell when something is wrong with them, and have a relationship with them that makes it easier for them to talk to us when they need to. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you know, or how you feel.
The kind of relationship you have with your kid is what may turn out to be the difference between helpful parental advice and controlling parental command. And for those of us who may have to put their foot down, and insist on your child not dating someone he or she has their mind-set on. Well, I don’t envy you. In situations such as these, patience, long-suffering and a lot of love is what is needed. But then, that is the same formula required in almost all of our dealings with our children, from things as simple as what to wear to school every day to the complicated explanation of why you don’t want her dating a boy you’ve heard bad rumors about from other parents.
Let them experience it
That said, we now come to the part where I have to tell you that in the end, you just have to leave them alone to experience dating and the hidden complexities of teenage love. Think of it like teaching them how to ride a bike. After checking to make sure that the bike is safe enough, teaching them about the important safety precautions like wearing helmets and bike pads, finally, we have to leave them to ride on their own. Gently following at a safe distance to be there to catch them if they are about to fall, or even hit the ground. There are some of them who would learn to ride that bike without any worries, and I am happy for those parents. For the rest of us, those who have to be there with a bright smile and kiss to wipe the tears from their face. Those of us who have to convince them it wasn’t their fault, and make sure that one bad experience doesn’t make them swear off riding bikes forever. I hope you’re getting the picture here. Those of us who have to be there when they come back sad, come back with tears on their face or come back looking confused because no matter how confident they may seem, they are still kids and life has funny ways of reminding them that.
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For those of us who have to go through all of this, make sure you are there for them even though it may seem impossible at first. I guarantee that one day, you’ll look back and miss these days of anxiously waiting for their dates to show up, or for them to come back.
Now back to watching my daughter date her VIG. It took some getting use to. My husband was a lot more open to the idea than I was. Mostly due to it happening at a time when he was deployed and leaving me to deal with all the heartaches and the worries attached to watching our eldest going out on a date. He did not have to be here for it. In the end, I just had to rip off the Band-Aid. Yes, it was painful. Yes, I wanted to drag her back and keep her in her room where she could stay my baby forever.
In the end, I guess thinking about my experience with dating to make me finally deal with my fears. Because despite the advent of social media and cellphone, despite the fact that a lot of what our kids know about love and dating, they get from the unrealistic teacher that is the tabloid magazines and TV shows, the heart remains the same. I remember that for all the emotional roller-coaster that dating was back then and is now, it made me what I am today. Just like you and me, our kids also have to learn to love and deal with the pain that sometimes comes with it.
Embrace Your Teens Dating
I had to just jump in head first. Parents listen, there is no dipping your toe in to see if the water is cold. You jump in head first and BAM! It’s full speed, and if you are not careful, you’ll find yourself several miles behind. I tried reading up on all what to expect. Things are different and complex now than it was then, and it is not strange to find a million and one different solutions to the same problem.
All, I can say is LISTEN and HEAR them when they want to talk. There will be questions (Uncomfortable ones). Answer them, honestly. Do not leave your kids naïve. Please, give them the facts and arm them with all the knowledge they need. A smart teen is a safe teen!
TOGETHER WE WILL SURVIVE THIS BEAUTIFUL CHAOS…
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