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Parents’ role when teen starts dating

Updated: May 29, 2014 4:32PM

F or most parents, nothing is more frightening than the idea of their teenager entering the world of dating. From awkward sex talks to pacing by the phone late at night, we all hate to watch our children grow up and grow away, especially when it comes to dating.

However, a new study suggests that teenage romance actually might be an important part of growing up. The study was performed at the University of Texas at Austin, and researchers found that teens who had a girlfriend or boyfriend were less likely to engage in delinquent or dangerous behaviors when compared to teens without a partner. Alternately, teens who did not have a partner but who “hooked up” had higher rates of antisocial behavior. Presumably, teens in a committed relationship spend less time with individuals of the opposite sex or less time at parties where dangerous behavior might occur, and they also might be more confident, self-assured, and less likely to give into peer pressure.

Sounds great, right? Of course, accepting your teen in a committed relationship is easier said than done, and setting boundaries around this relationship is equally tricky. Consider the following guide:

Meet the parents. While you will likely insist on meeting the significant other and giving him the once-over, you also should consider meeting the parents as well. Together, two sets of parents can offer more support and regulation than one set can, and it’s important to keep the communication lines between your families open. That way if your teenager is over at her boyfriend’s house having dinner, you can easily call and check on her if need be, and you can offer the same assurance to his parents as well. Additionally, you can use this opportunity to make your requests known to his parents, such as, “I would prefer if you wouldn’t let them be alone in the bedroom with the door closed” or, “Can you make sure she leaves your house by 10 p.m.? I don’t like her driving late at night.” As long as you are respectful and helpful in return, his parents should have no problem keeping an eye on your teen when you can’t.

Be realistic. If your teenager is having sex, there is a chance he or she won’t tell you. Hence, even if they dodge your attempts at safer sex talks or pretend like they aren’t listening, keep having these conversations and be realistic about the temptations facing them. To that end, talk about safer sex practices like condoms and birth control, as well as abstinence and how to say no or how to postpone sex. You always can couch your talk within the framework of your own moral or religious code, such as “I don’t want you having sex until you are married. But I know you are very close with your boyfriend, and I want you to be as safe and careful as possible when it comes to your body and sexual health.” Even if she blushes a million shades of red, she is listening and absorbing everything you are saying, so make sure she has all the accurate information that she needs.

Look for warning signs. Teenage romance can be a wonderful and beautiful part of your child’s adolescence, but it also can turn dangerous or obsessive. Look for red flags such as dramatic changes in your teen’s behavior or appearance, and keep in mind that anytime your teen dates someone who is more than a couple years older than herself, the chance of her being abused or controlled by her partner increases.

Even if your teen is a happy, healthy relationship, it still is important to offer a stable, loving home and unconditional support that they can rely on at anytime. Even if they act like they don’t need your love and support, the truth is that now is a time when they might need it more than ever!

Dr. Berman hosts “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” at 9 p.m. Mondays on OWN and “The Dr. Laura Berman Show” from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays on Oprah Radio (on XM 156/Sirius 195). She is the author of It’s Not Him, It’s You.

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