Ask just about any adult if they would go back to their teen years, and they would likely answer in the negative. These years are a necessary part of growing into an independent adult, but this process is one that is filled with many twists and turns. It is as hard for parents as it is for teens to navigate the teen years. (Remember your mother saying in exasperation, "I hope you have a child that outs you through exactly what you are doing to me?" Payoff time!)

At the beginning of the teen years, their need for approval from their peers becomes a dominating influence in their lives. Their social circle and status becomes a major influence in their days. As teens enter the middle teen era, their interest in the opposite sex comes into play (along with the hormones). Teens begin to have crushes and want to date and have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend.

This step into the dating world should occur when your teen is mature enough to manage the relationship, has the self esteem to stand up for themselves if they are being pressured into a sexual relationship, and the ability to begin a more steady relationship.

There are many benefits to teen dating. Dating increases a teen's self esteem reinforcing his or her worth by being desired and appreciated by another person. Dating helps teens explore their own individuality and develop their character. Teens define their expectations for themselves and a romantic partner through their dating experiences. Dating helps teens learn social skills needed for later intimate relationships; they learn how to be emotionally connected to another human being in a romantic way, being part of a partnership.

Some families have a set age or behavior as a benchmark for beginning to date. A common age to start dating is sixteen. There is the ability to drive and assumed responsibility at sixteen that may not be present when teens are younger. Indeed, dating or going steady at a younger age can be a warning flag for many parents that their child is at risk for becoming sexually active earlier or engaging in other behavior. When your teen is getting ready to date, set a few ground rules (and establish the consequences for breaking those rules) with your teen. Doing so before they go out helps keep the waters smooth.

1. Always know your teen's dates

This is as important for the parents of boys as it is for girls. Ask to meet the date (invite them for a family dinner, outing, etc.) Ask your teen about the person they are dating, and ask about the generalities of the date. There is a fine line drawn here between supportive and intrusive. Your teen will resent questions that sound intrusive.

2. Just the facts

Set up guidelines of where your teen can go on dates. Always ask where they are going, and the people they will be with. Get a cell phone number of at least one other person that they will be with in case of an emergency.

3. Keep your teen's life well rounded

While having a boyfriend or girlfriend seems like the most important thing to your teen, set limits on their dating so that their studies and other hobbies or interests are not neglected. Teach your teen to be balanced and have some time for their responsibilities (school), and the other relationships in their life. This will help your teen when that inevitable break up occurs, keeping them connected with their support system.

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