Uh, oh. Your daughter just turned 16, the age you and her mom agreed would signify the start of dating. Now you're wondering if maybe you should have set the benchmark at 30. What should you do? 

Before the date 

Remind your teen what dating is for: to find a suitable marriage partner. Since marriage is still five years away – at a minimum – now's a good time for her to guard her heart. Explain that adolescents rarely fall in love. Oh it may feel like love, but true love is an act of the will, not the emotions. What he might be feeling is the rush of hormones, the excitement of knowing someone finds him attractive, the electricity of physical touch.  

  • Love, the kind that makes for long-lasting marriages, is a decision to treat the beloved with kindness, respect and integrity, even when the emotions aren't there to support you. 
  • Discuss how habits she establishes now will set the course for future relationships, including the one with "Mr. Right." Healthy physical and emotional boundaries will keep foggy thinking at bay. Too often teens allow the pleasure of the moment to obscure the reality of the rest of their life. Just one false move, especially sexually, could undermine all of your daughter's dreams for her future. 
  • Encourage group activities. Trouble is far less likely to occur in large groups. So your son's found that special someone. He can still enjoy her sense of humour and beautiful curly hair in the company of friends. Plus, the date is likely to be more fun and less pressure at a time when self-image is fragile. 
  • Assure her that you're never more than a phone call away. Even if her intentions are pure, her date's may not be. Equip her with a cell phone and encourage her to use it if things get out of hand. The speed dial function can be handy if the nice boy you met in the living room turns out to be a walking hormone when he's out of your presence. 

During the date

  • Always meet your daughter's suitor. And make the most of the meeting. Turn off the television when he arrives and sit down with him while he waits for your daughter to finish getting ready. Give him your full attention, ask him about himself, let him know you're interested in who he is, who your daughter will be spending time with. This sends a powerful message to a young man: that you care deeply about your daughter's welfare and will not tolerate any ungentlemanly behaviour. It will greatly reduce his desire to compromise her integrity, knowing that "Dad is keeping a close eye on them." 
  • Make your expectations clear: What's the curfew? What time should they call to check in? Where will they be? Who will they be with? If you've demonstrated trust and respect for your teen up until now (e.g., not reading her diaries or journals or snooping through his drawers, not eavesdropping on phone conversations), he'll be more likely to reciprocate and follow your rules.
  • After the date

  •  Talk about it, even if it's uncomfortable. Ask what they did and listen without interrupting. Discuss how their decisions influenced the course of the date and, if it went poorly, how they might handle a similar situation differently next time. You'll be teaching them to make good decisions instead of just communicating your disapproval. Remember, this is part of growing up. Once you allow your teenager to date, you might as well help the process go smoothly. Your teens are naturally moving toward independence. But they're not on their own yet. Make the most of this pre-adult season by supporting, guiding and loving them through the ups and downs of romance.
  • From Troubledwith.com, a Focus on the Family website. © 2002 Brad Lewis and Candice Watters. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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