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Helping your teen navigate the dating scene

 Helping your teen navigate the dating scene (Photo: iStock)

Juliana Angaza heard a soft knock. At the door, she found her 18-year-old daughter with a boy roughly around her age. 

Juliana ushered the two in and gestured for the young man to sit down. There followed an uncomfortable dead silence in the room before finally her daughter found her voice, “Mama, meet my boyfriend.”

The silence that followed was deafening. The daughter watched her mother who by now had her eyes fixed on something on the floor. The young man looked up at the ceiling.

Psychologists and counsellors say adolescence is one of the most demanding parenting stages.

It is a time that presents all sorts of new challenges and milestones to parents. However, they say with the necessary information and effective communication, parents, whether couples or single parents, can be a champion and support system for their teen during these times of transition. 

“As children approach their teen years, they may begin to express an interest in dating, and this can be a confusing time for parents and their children, but there are ways to guide your child towards a successful dating experience when the time is right for them,” says Lisa Wanjiro a counselling psychologist and certified mediator. 

Wanjiro says parents should understand that children may be ready sooner or later than their peers.

“Brain development and social skills both impact a tween and teen’s readiness to date,” she says. 

To Juliana, the introduction by her daughter caught her off-guard. Though she knew that her daughter’s entry to university would give her exposure to interact with “college boys”, she never expected the news for the next four years that her daughter would be engaged in college. 

The expert says typically, teens begin dating in groups, which is a great way to ease them into the dating experience.

However, she says according to paediatricians, the recommended guidance is age 16 when a teen can start a one-on-one, though the readiness should be determined on an individual basis. 

Wanjiro says there are many factors to consider when determining if a teen is ready to date, though the most important cues come from the teen. 

She advises parents to take note if they express a romantic interest in peers, or engage in discussions centred on their sexual orientation, and also pay close attention to what their friends are doing, for example, if they are talking about dating in everyday conversation, this can be a helpful clue. 

“When (my daughter) dropped her bombshell, I realised that I should have started engaging her in the dating topic as it relates to others, such as her cousin who was dating at 17 years old, or even the television characters of some series she was glued to,” says Juliana. 

The counsellor agrees, explaining that the more parents talk to their teen, the easier it will be to determine if the teen is prepared to date. She says parents should consider whether they have safety skills in place and if the teen would call them in a moment of need. 

Does the teenager understand consent and boundaries? How emotionally mature are they? How can you have a conversation with your teen about dating? What safety advocacy skills have they put in place? Do they know how to say no? What are they worried most about when it comes to dating? 

What qualities are they looking for in a dating partner? Are they privy to the challenges of age gaps? Do they know how to establish boundaries for dating? Would they recognise a violent dating scene, and if so what would they do about it? Would you know if your teen needs additional support, and if so, do you know how to go about it? 

The counselling psychologist and mediator advise parents to be conscious of all the details of the dating scene of their teen, albeit discretely.

“Parents whose teenagers are dating should be wary of partners who portray controlling behaviour as an appropriate and normal way to express love, and should always be on the lookout for emotional and physical signs or sudden change in mood or personality that are tall signs of an unstable and abnormal dating,” says the expert.

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