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What Parents Need to Know About Teens and Dating

By the age of 19, about 80% of people have had sex for the first time.  By the time most parents feel that their kids are old enough to be in a committed relationship and engage in sexual activity, the time for a preparatory conversation may have already passed.

Relationship and parenting expert Dr. Wendy Walsh, PhD, explains what every parent needs to know about teens and dating.

Not Your Mother’s Dating Pool

One of the first mistakes a parent can make is assuming that teen dating is the same as when they were young.

“Teen courtship today looks very different than it did 50 years ago, and even different than it did in my generation,” says Walsh, an Emmy-nominated co-host on the Dr. Phil spin-off television show, The Doctors.

Walsh explains that a lot of traditional dating protocol from earlier generations was inherently gender discriminatory, which is why it’s being tossed aside now.

It can be empowering for a young woman to demonstrate her ability to take care of herself by arranging for her own means of transportation to a date, and paying for her share once she arrives.

“Now young girls even pay for dates for guys if they happen to be the one with the money,” says Walsh.

Of course, just because the dating landscape in general has changed does not mean that every teen is interested in conducting their own relationship within these modern guidelines. Parents should talk to their teens about what they value in a significant other.  It is important for teens to know that they need not be limited by traditional or modern dating and gender constructs.

Having “The Talk”

No matter what type of person they choose to date, parents can make sure their teens enter the dating world with the information they need to stay safe and make decisions that they’re ready for physically and emotionally.

Parents should be a source of information for your child as soon as they begin asking questions, but should remember to keep their responses age appropriate.

“So if you happen to have a four year old and they ask, ‘How did the baby get into your tummy, Mommy?’ which is what happened to me, that’s the time you begin giving them answers– simple, concrete, age appropriate answers,” says Walsh.

In doing so, parents can send the message early on that they are the ones who their kids can come to for answers, which is crucial for safety in later years. Without parents as a reliable resource, children are vulnerable to receiving inaccurate information from other kids at school.

What the Sex Talk Should Include

When the time comes to talk to children about sex– usually around middle school– Walsh instructs parents to touch on more than just the anatomical explanation.

You want to also discuss:
• The emotional consequences of sex
• The various types of sex
• Birth control/pregnancy prevention and STD prevention

Walsh advises parents: “Try not to be angry and sex-negative. You want to be sex-positive but you also want to show boundaries and you want to show the psychological piece as well as the commitment piece.  Keep the conversation light and loving so it doesn’t overwhelm your kids and they can get the vital information they need.”

For more advice from Wendy Walsh on what parents should do if they find out their teen is sexually active, click here.

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