Social interactions, and dating it particular, often become the center of teenager life. It is a very important stage on their way to maturity, and it is only natural teens put so much value into their friendship and romantic relationship. They make mistakes, they learn, they look for their own “tribe” – and yes, it means they will want more autonomy and freedom.
Teenagers tend to have this “No one gets me” attitude, with “one” being most often, the parents. It is simple, really. Parents tend to either overreact to the problem, or on the contrary, underestimate it. They have their experience. They (seemingly to the teenager) overreact to things that pose some kind of danger to their child and underestimate teen’s emotional struggle. For teenagers, the latter is real, while the former is close to non-existent. The truth is, as always, in between, for both are real and both matter. Try to keep it in mind while approaching your child and having a conversation about dating and relationship.
I do not suggest you will lead them through their romances by the hand, but you must do what it takes to prepare them for this venture and teach them mindful dating.
What does it mean? Here are some simple rules.
First of all, tell them that they never should do anything they are uncomfortable with – neither for social approval nor to keep their significant other interested. For something their friends (or frenemies) encourage them to do today, they may relentlessly shame them later. Understanding that it wasn’t even their own choice, makes regret twice as bitter.
Second, they must learn to weigh the consequences. Drama, breaking the rules, sacrificing everything, trusting someone with their reputation, even life, may seem romantic for teens. Apart from it, teenagers are risk-takers by nature, it’s just the way we humans are. Moreover, they are very sensitive to how their peers see and describe them. They may be prudent by nature, but they will do anything not to be known as prudish. Being aware of all this, you should be particularly careful with your advice. Try to appeal to reason and their self-love. Before they decide to do anything, ask them to imagine, will it matter five, ten years later?
Today, when dating happens mostly online, it is easy to conceal everything from parents. Even if children first met in real life, they rely on digital tools in building their relationships. They like and comment photos of their crushes on social networks, to let them know they are interested. If they see each other daily, they still text their partner every hour to tell them how they miss them. Parents may know little of the whirlwind romances of their teens.
The reason why teens often choose to be secretive about their dating life is that they do not feel understood and supported. They are afraid that parents will give them a hard time, should they learn about their son’s or daughter’s going out with someone, will start forbidding and asking awkward questions.
That is why it is so important to build the atmosphere of trust: show them you acknowledge and accept their decision, however, there must be rules, both for online and real life. Trust between you and your child is crucial. Being naïve and confiding, young boys and girls are more prone to dangers of online dating than mature adults.
Hoax boy/girlfriend is one of those dangers. They are fake personas created in order to make a wicked prank, gain the trust of the person they “date” online, then dump them, and leave them heartbroken. Alternatively, expose this affection towards a non-existent person to the world to embarrass the frustrate the victim. You should not underestimate the hoax date danger. Though the person is not real, the teen’s feelings still are – remember the strange Manti Te’o’s story or tragic Megan Meier’s one. Make sure your child understands that anyone can pose as anyone online.
Predators posing as teenagers, gaining their trust and tricking them into sending risky photos or videos are also real the danger. However, and this may come as a shock, Internet offenders pretended to be teenagers in only 5% of the crimes studied by researchers. The distressing truth is that teenagers, being curious about sex and flattered by the attention on a mature person, willingly engage in risky behavior and agree to meet the predator in the real life. That is why it is never a bad idea to monitor your child’s online activities. If you suspect something like this is going on, you should ask your child directly. Be calm, but firm. Explain your concern. If the trust between you was broken, start monitoring your child’s device with parental tools. Pumpic with an option of iCloud monitoring is a good example because your child will be more cautious, knowing that you watch their activities.
Does it mean they only should add people as friends on social networks, if they know them in real life? Well, it is a good practice. However, the Web is full of strangers. Not all of them are dangerous. Some of them can really become our friends. It may be very refreshing and exciting for a teenager to get in touch with someone outside his or her circle of daily acquaintance. Yet to prevent the adverse experiences, there must be some rules.
- Instruct your teen to be wary. Before they feel deeply for their fantasy flame, they should make sure it is a real person – at least have a video chat. As the report by Pew Research Center shows, 8% of all teens have met a romantic partner online – that is more than a quarter of all teens that have had some kind of romantic relationship, so the danger of hoax romance is not as vague is it may seem.
- Tell them, that they must never reveal personal information to people they only know from Facebook or Instagram: their phone number, the school they go to, their home address (previously, make sure they haven’t posted any of the information already on their profile).
- Remind them about scam artist. Make it clear to your child that sending money or anything of material value to unknown people is out of the question. If it seems like charity fundraising, they should consult you anyway.
- If they decide on meeting the person in real life, they absolutely must tell you where and when they are going to meet this person. Let them make it a public place – a park, a coffee shop, a roller rink. They also shouldn’t go there alone – it’s better to take a friend with them and meet as a company, at least for the first time.
- Tell them, that the relationship should grow slowly. It is good that people may find friends online brought together by mutual interests, but before they become more that this they ought to know each other better.
- Under no circumstances, they should not sext, even if they know the boy/girl and trust them. Make it clear that teen sexting is illegal – your teen may end up registering as sex offender for life for distribution of child pornography. This topic may be awkward to discuss, but children must realize the consequences. Relationship dissolve, pictures not always are being deleted as promised. Slut shaming and sex bullying can have devastating effects, especially on girls.
It is important your teen know that they always may count on you, no matter what. They can always turn for help. The reason why they choose to tell the friend about some trouble, is that the friend will probably say something like “It sucks!” and gives them a compassionate hug, whereas the parent will most likely get frustrated and will say “I told you so!” or something like this.
When people feel lonely and seek companionship, they are particularly vulnerable – both young and old. They are willing to trust, their judgment may be clouded. If something undesirable have happened, your duty is to protect your child from further harm, not add grief by punishment and lecturing – this can wait until the crisis is over.
Keep having ongoing conversations about online and real-life safety. Discuss both negative and positive aspects. Your teenager will tell you about their friends and dates only if they feel you support them, not only warn and scare with consequences.