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When Is Your Teen Ready to Date?

It's a tricky question without clear-cut answers. But there are ways parents can support – and guide – kids through first romantic relationships

It seemed to happen overnight, says Clarkston mom Judith Wahl. One day her daughter was playing with her My Little Pony – and the next she was heading to the mall, so she and her friends could check out one of the boys she had a crush on.

"Seriously, her interest in boys, in dating, just blossomed overnight," Wahl says. "I just couldn't believe it. I thought I had more time and here she was pressing me about dating. I wasn't prepared."

When your teen wants to start dating, parents should be sure to teach him or her how to go about it in the right manner. Talk about respect and not surrendering to pressure. This can be a stressful time for you and your teen – and a lot of questions pop up around this transition.

When to start?

One of the biggest questions tends to be about age. When is a good time to have the dating chat? At what age should kids be allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends? Unfortunately, there isn't one stock answer.

"There is no age that is right for all," says Vicki Salinger of the Southfield Youth Assistance Program. "The maturity of the individual is what is important."

Having a talk

No one knows your child's ability to be responsible better than you, so use your best judgment when it comes to age. But, before you give permission to go out into the dating world, no matter what age you decide on, you must talk about it with your son or daughter.

"It's never too early to start talking to your kids about how to treat others," says Sue Campbell, director of the Northville Youth Assistance program. Counselors and social workers agree there should be addressed. One of the main guidelines is enforce that personal boundaries are important.

"Both genders need to understand that boundaries are positive and necessary," says Campbell.

Listening

Another important thing to do is simply listen. Don't freak your kid out with yelling about what he or she can't do; it may jeopardize the chance of your teen confiding in you later.

"With teens, parents need to learn to ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers without immediate argument," Salinger says "It takes real skill to ask things that get them to think over their choices and make smart decisions."

More advice

She strongly recommends that parents read the book Dater's Ed by Lisa Jander.

Jander is a certified life coach, the former director of a dating service in California and public speaker who now lives with her family in Lake Orion. Her book is a dating manual for parents based off of a driver's education manual.

"The analogies are between dating and driving to help parents teach their teens how to date defensively, navigate safely and steer clear of unhealthy relationships," says Jander. Her website, DatersEd.com, also offers up a lot of advice.

Bottom line

Jander says no one can guarantee that your teen's dating experience will go smoothly. But if you openly talk about it, address the issues that you're worried about, lay down ground rules and remind your teen that you are always available to listen, you will go a long way in helping your child navigate this new stage in their life.

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