The teen years can be full of ups and downs. These feelings are normal as teens try out more adult behaviors and responsibilities, deal with growing expectations, and make the gradual transition to independence.
For some teens, dating plays a part in this time of life. It can be a wonderful experience where teens develop trust and learn about mutual compromise and empathy. It can also be awkward, perplexing or even heartbreaking. Teens who date can learn to give to others and how to expect the same in return. This can all be part of practice sessions to find meaningful relationships in life.
Some teenagers date and others don’t, and dating is just one way to develop strong relationships. Having good friends, being part of a team or group, or closeness with family are other ways to build intimacy and interpersonal skills.
Starting to date
The main thing I share with teens and parents as young people begin to think about dating is to only start dating only when you feel ready, not because you are pressured, are a certain age, or because your friends are. Teens who date before they are ready or have low self-esteem are at risk for developing unhealthy relationships.
Also, date people in your own age range. Teenagers who date someone older than themselves are more likely to have sex before they’re ready. Group dating with friends can be a good way to start dating, allowing teens to be comfortable and have shared experiences.
Dealing with the physical/sexual aspects of dating as well as the prospect of breakups is also important. It’s good to think about these questions ahead of time:
- How would I handle it if I’m pressured to do things physically with my boyfriend/girlfriend that I don’t want to do?
- How do I end the relationship if I think it is time to move on? What if my boyfriend/girlfriend dumps me?
Everyone has a right to a healthy dating relationship –– even if past relationships have not been healthy. Here are some signs to watch for.
- You look forward to seeing your girlfriend/boyfriend.
- You have fun together and enjoy some of the same activities, but also have separate friends and interests.
- Your boyfriend/girlfriend respects you, your beliefs and your decisions.
- You feel they like you back and you’re not always left wondering.
- Your boyfriend/girlfriend calls you names, puts you down or criticizes you.
- He or she shows jealous behaviors and keeps track of you, including who you talk to, text and exchange social media messages with.
- You go out of your way to avoid triggering his or her bad mood.
- You feel pressure to do something sexual when you don’t want to.
- You are kept from seeing or talking to family or friends.
- You are ever physically hit, pushed, slapped or kicked.
Dating violence can be physical, psychological, sexual or any combination of the three. One in three teenagers have experienced dating violence, and boys and girls both experience it.
Teens who experience abuse, or may be wondering if their relationship is abusive can call the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474, chat online at loveisrespect.org or text LOVEIS to 22522. This excellent resource offers 24-hour real-time support from peer advocates, and is also appropriate for concerned parents, teachers and friends.
Teens and adults can also download the Sojourner Peace App, which lets users confidentially examine their relationship through a relationship quiz and take preventive measures. The app was developed by Sojourner Family Peace Center, a collaboration between Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Child Advocacy Center and the Milwaukee Police Department and district attorney’s office.
If you or your teen has questions or concerns about healthy dating, talk to your pediatrician.
Learn more about James Shander, MD.