When Should Kids Date?

by Dr. Ray Guarendi

As a family psychologist, I am often asked by parents when their children should begin dating. They usually hasten to inform me, “All his (her) friends are dating.” My quick answer is: When they’re married, and only with their spouse.

Seriously, dating age depends upon all kinds of factors, and varies from child to child, even within the same family. But here are some general guidelines from my experience:

1. Most kids are dating way too early.

2. Never consider your neighborhood’s “average age” when making your decision.

3. Start slow and supervised.

4. When in doubt, hold off.

5. Nothing at all is to be gained from premature, opposite-sex involvement through dating, or for that matter, through the phone, dances, parties, or games kids love.

This said, it is a simple truth of life that if you act differently from the way the majority does, you will be misunderstood by most.

Let’s suppose that you’ve decided to begin dating discussions when your daughter turns 16. Now back in the old days — the early 1980s — you met resistance for such a decision mainly from the children. Parents used to expect instinctively to be challenged by their kids, especially in judgments of how fast one should grow up.

What is quite different these days is that you are almost as likely to be questioned by your peers, the parents of your children’s friends, They will say:

“These are different times. This is not when you and I were growing up. These kids grow up so much faster nowadays. You can’t protect them forever. You can’t wrap a moral bubble around them; they have to deal with life. If you make kids too different, they’ll feel like weirdos who don’t fit in. Then they’ll get resentful and rebellious.

Let me share with you a rule. A recent survey suggested that if a child has a first date between the ages of 11 and 13, he or she has a 90% probability of being sexually active during senior year in high school.

First date at age 14 leads to a 50% chance; first date at age 16, 20% chance.

What chance would you prefer? What chance is much of society taking?

Key factors to consider in granting any type of dating freedom are your child’s:

• moral maturity

• independence of thought

• history of conduct in other social settings

• strength of will

• social judgment

• choice of friends

• responsibility toward schoolwork

• respect for authority.

I figure if I make the list long enough, my kids won’t be eligible to date until they move out.

Once you are confident your son or daughter has met these standards, sit them down, let them know how much you admire who they are and who they’re becoming. Then tell them, “Just three more years, and you can date.”

Just kidding -- sort of.

Dr. Guarendi is a family psychologist and author of Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime (Servant Books, 2003) and You’re a Better Parent Than You Think (Fireside, 1984).