When my youngest daughter was dating in high school, she came to me one day and told me that she really wanted to have sex with her boyfriend but also wanted to wait to have sex until marriage. We had talked openly about sex since she was young and I was glad that she felt comfortable talking to me about her struggles. I listened to her for a long time and was impressed with how much she revealed about her raging hormones, love of her boyfriend, conflicted feelings about abstinence and fear that she might regret having sex before marriage. I offered her empathy and compassion and some advice based on my life experience and my years of working with teens as a teacher and counselor. She listened and that opened the door to further conversations over the next year. 

I encouraged her to talk to some trusted adult mentors in her life, as well. Honestly, I think that one of those mentors gave her some advice that made more of an impact on her than what I had said, likely because I was the mother instead of the mentor. That trusted adult, a seasoned high school teacher, told her to grab a pair of her favorite tennis shoes, tie them together and throw them over her mirror. Then she said, “Look at those shoes every day when you are getting ready for school or the weekend. That pair of tennis shoes is likely to last longer than your relationship with your boyfriend. Do you want to give away something as precious as your virginity to something that is likely to last only a year or so?” That really made my daughter think and, no surprise here, that mentor was right.  That relationship ended about six months later and my daughter was very glad that she had not engaged in sex with her boyfriend.

Remember, Asset #31: Restraint makes it very clear that these types of decisions are not to be taken lightly. Asset 31 states, “young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.” As parents, we need to engage in these difficult and often awkward discussions in hopes of giving our children a long-term perspective while also showing empathy for their immediate desires. It’s imperative that we educate our kids about the potential ramifications of not being able to say, “No.” Here are some other tips for parents when talking to kids about dating.

  1. Affirm the importance of cultivating relationships with the opposite sex and define dating as a potentially positive part of being an adolescent when practiced at the right time and within some good boundaries.
  2. Talk about the importance of forming good, solid relationships with friends of the same sex before launching into dating as those friends will provide support and encouragement once an adolescent starts dating.
  3. Discourage online contact beyond a first contact. Dating needs to take place in person so your son or daughter can interact with and observe the person he or she is dating.
  4. Encourage kids to enter the world of dating via group dating in which a group of kids who have paired up regularly get together. In these groups, couples should be limited to holding hands only and should never be alone after dark or watching romantic or sexually explicit movies together. The idea here is for a young dating couple to begin to develop social skills for dating (which are learned via interacting with other couples) and to begin to be affectionate toward one another without being tempted to become sexually active. Once the couple has gained some maturity in regard to social interactions with his or her date and has had some experience managing the physical aspects of a dating relationship, the couple may be ready to move on to a more exclusive dating relationship.
  5. Remind kids that they will likely date many people before they find one that is truly special to them and teach them skills to enter and exit a dating relationships gracefully and in a way that is not traumatic to either party.
  6. Teach kids to slow down and enjoy the experience of dating. Most adolescent dating relationships move way too quickly. It is far better for kids to think of early dating as just a time to explore and observe and to expect to move from early to exclusive dating in terms of years rather than weeks or months.                                                                                                         
  7. Educate kids about the dangers of alcohol and drugs when dating. The hard truth is that alcohol and drugs are used on a regular basis with the intent of “loosening up” a guy or girl to have sex.  Young people are much more likely to experience so-called “date rape” when they have consumed alcohol or other drugs.
  8. Educate kids about sexually transmitted diseases. There is no need to be overly dramatic. Just present the facts.  Unprotected sex can lead to contracting any one of a number of STD’s and the truth is that most adolescents are not mature enough to use protection properly anyway.   

Leave the door open for ongoing conversations about dating and try to listen before providing any advice.  Also, be careful not to judge your son or daughter too harshly. They will be likely to continue to talk to you about what is going on in their lives if you invite them to share freely with you.