I recently worked with a mom who was distraught that her son was ‘dating' a girl in middle school. I first asked her how old she’d hoped he would be before he dated and she said, “Sixteen.”
Then, I asked her when she’d ever talked to her son about that. She just looked at me, puzzled.
“Well, he’s only in the seventh grade,” she said. “It wasn't time to talk about it yet.” “Obviously it was,” I said. Research shows that by the time a girl is 11 years old, 30% of her peers will have had a boyfriend.
At some point, you have to tell your kids point-blank what your standards are. We adopted the dating protocol of the LaHayes after reading their book, Raising Sexually Pure Kids. We decided to let our teenagers go on group dates for special events as soon as they hit high school. That means they could go on a chaperoned formal event, if they wanted, at the age of 14 or 15. Our son took advantage of this. Our daughter did not. The first boy asked her by writing it on a piece of paper and whacking her in the head with it. The second one had already asked her friend, who had declined. So, she decided to dress to the nines with five other girls and take public transportation to her first formal.
Our teenagers were allowed to go on single dates when they were 16, as long as we were actively involved in the planning and execution of the evening. What do I mean by “actively involved”? Well, our daughters always knew that a guy who wanted to take them out has to go through an interview with their dad. Period. If the boy seemed to have honorable intentions and was someone we felt comfortable with, we most likely allowed them to spend a carefully planned, very public evening together. We were approving everything they did, and they were in close contact with us. That’s what I mean by involved.
Finally, we discouraged them from being in any exclusive relationships until they were out of high school. We really wanted them to enjoy their high school years free from the drama relationships tend to bring, and we didn’t want their heart wounded by excessive relationships.
I can’t overestimate the importance of establishing and communicating your family’s dating standards when your daughter is a tween, even if that seems difficult. I also can’t understate how easy it is. My kids’ hearts were so innocent that it was just comfortable and natural to discuss. It’s easy to establish your standards if you do so before their hormones kick in and “everyone else” has a boyfriend. If you wait to have this conversation, you may find yourself working a lot harder.