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Adolescence and Safe Dating

How to help adolescents moderate the risks of dating

A reader asked: “Any guidelines for safe teenage dating?”

Here are a few thoughts about safe dating for adolescent and parental consideration.

To begin, in late adolescence (ages 15-18), roughly the high school years, social dating is a certifiably more grown up thing to do. It is another way of acting older, which is one reason young people want to date. Also, after puberty, dating becomes a way of acting young womanly and young manly in relation to the other sex. Sporadic in middle school, it becomes more common in high school when it becomes less awkward and more fun, but also creates and increases a number of dangerous exposures.

These dangers include the risks of substance use (alcohol and other drugs), sexual intimacy (sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy), car accidents (speeding and distraction), emotional harm (manipulation and exploitation), and social violence (assault and rape.)

A safe date has a lot to do with good treatment in the dating relationship and some additional factors that may reduce likelihood of harm.

Start with treatment. Be able to answer ‘yes’ to five treatment questions in the dating relationship and there’s likelihood the experience is going okay.

First, do you like how you are treated in the relationship? For example, you are asked about what you like to do and feel you have free choice to consent, with no negative response for refusal. A warning sign would be feeling pressured to do what you don’t want.

Second, do you like how you treat the other person in the relationship? For example, you treat the dating partner as a person of equal worth and standing. A warning sign would be if you treated the other person as inferior or superior to yourself.

Third, do you like how you treat yourself in the relationship? For example, you feel comfortable being the person you authentically and comfortably are. A warning sign would be if you engaged in deception or pretense to get along.

Fourth, do you like how the other person treats themselves? For example, the dating partner is honest with themselves about their strengths and weaknesses. A warning sign would be if the other person needed to show off to impress you or prove their worth.

Fifth, does the other person like how they are treated in the relationship? For example, they feel relaxed and comfortable with you. A warning sign would be if the other person felt worried, distrustful, pressured, threatened, or coerced.

Then there are ten factors which, it is only my impression, seem to reduce the likelihood of dating harm.

1) Parents routinely meet and talk to their adolescent’s date. This is probably safer than having their teenager date someone they have not even met.

2) The dating is done among a bunch of other dating friends. This is probably safer than dating as a lone couple with no social company around.

3) The dating partner is close to the same age. This is probably safer than dating someone who is significantly older and more experienced.

4) The date is structured around a planned activity. This is probably safer than a date with nothing planned and everything yet to be decided.

5) Parents are only a phone call away. This is probably safer than dating and having no way to reach parents should help be needed or trouble arise.

6) On the date, both people, and others present, are substance free. This is probably safer than one or both or other parties altering their perception, judgment, and impulse control with alcohol or other drugs.

7) The curfew on the date is set no later than around midnight. This is probably safer than early morning hour curfew when the later the time, the looser the vigilance and laxer the restraints become.

8) You listen to what your good friends have to say about your date. This is probably safer than dating someone about who you have no reliable information from trusted peers.

9) You trust your instincts when they communicate a vague feeling of doubt, distrust, or danger. This is probably safer than denying your senses and just relying on how you would like things to be or to work out.

10) You beware yourself and acknowledge your vulnerabilities. This is probably safer than ignoring your heightened needs for approval, inclusion, or excitement that can get you into costly relationships.

Sons need to be spoken to about safe and respectful treatment of any young woman they go out with, as one single mom did with her son: "I expect you to treat anyone you date as respectfully as you would want your sister or me treated by any man dating either of us, is that clear?" It was.

Finally, there is this. Many years ago a woman I worked with at an organization told me a story about the power of parental involvement in her dating through high school. It went like this. “My dad was a strange combination. He pushed me to push myself to try new things and get ahead, but he also watched over me while I did. All the way through growing up he had his eyes on me and mostly this was okay, except when it came to my dating in high school, when it definitely wasn’t, at least not to me. It was embarrassing, even humiliating what he put me through when I was going out with a guy. I used to get so mad at him. ‘Daddy,’ I’d complain, ‘nobody else, not one of my friends, has to go through what you put me through when I date! I hate it!’ And he’d just smile and agree. ‘Little darling, I know you do, but this is just what a father has to do.’ And what he put me though was this. I came to call it ‘taking my dates into the kitchen.’ It went this way. First, he had to meet anyone I was going out with, even if I’d gone out with them before. He was always welcoming of the guy, always shook him by the hand. Then after some small talk, and discussing plans for the evening, he’d say, ‘Join me in the kitchen will you?’ And of course the guy always did. I soon discovered from my dates what my dad had to say because it was always the same thing. Something like this: ‘I appreciate you’re taking our daughter out tonight. I want you to know she is very precious to us, and that we are entrusting her to your care. We expect to have her back on time in as good shape as when she left. If you run into anything unexpected, or need any help, please give us a call. We are always here, and we will be waiting up for her return. Understood? Good. Now I hope you both have a good, responsible time.’ So you can figure it didn’t take long for me to prep my dates for my dad, not that it caused him to act any different. And I resented him all the while. But later, after I’d been out on my own a few years something about what he’d done changed for me. Maybe I grew old enough to appreciate what I’d been given, and it was this. I had friends who had bad dating experiences in high school, some pretty serious, but never me, never once. All through high school, going out with a lot of guys, and safe dating all the way, thanks to my dad.”

Parental involvement: don’t date without it.

For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, "SURVIVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENCE" (Wiley 2013.)Information at:

I welcome questions and suggestions for future blogs

Next week’s entry: Finishing High School and "Senioritis" (Academic Letdown)

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