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How to talk to your child about dating

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You probably remember the raging hormones, your junior high crush and your first love, but dating today is a completely different ball game for your kids. With texting, social media and pop culture an ever-present influence, dating is more complex than ever before.

How can you prepare your children to date and make sure they’ll make good choices now and throughout their lifetimes? Read on.

Take it seriously

“These are their first relationships, and so they fall hard,” said Rosalind Wiseman, an educator and author of Queen Bees and Wannabes. It’s important not to dismiss your child’s relationships just because he or she is a teenager. What your child learns now will set the stage for healthy relationships in the future.

Use the media

Talking to your child about celebrity relationships like Rihanna and Chris Brown can be great teachable moments, according to Dr. Jeff Gardere, assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Manhattan and creator of the Healthy Divorce app. TV shows, movies, and YouTube videos can all be used as a sounding board to talk about what healthy and unhealthy relationship look like – without it turning into another lecture.

Set the rules together

Although you already know what the rules will be about dating, curfews, parties and driving, it’s important to negotiate them together. So if your teen wants a 10 p.m. curfew, start at 8:30 p.m. and slowly increase the time when your child proves he or she can take on more responsibility. “Empower them to be part of the decision making process, and they’ll follow it more,” Gardere said.

Teach appropriate social media behavior

About 4 percent of teens have sexted a photo or video of themselves and 15 percent have received one, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

So how can you make sure your kid isn’t sexting his or her latest crush? You can’t, according to Wiseman. “As much as you would like to have control of the situation, you don’t,” Wiseman said. “You’re not going to be sitting there when your child receives or sends a picture.” So aside from confiscating cell phones, talk with your kid about what your family’s values are when it comes to technology in the hopes that he or she will make the right decision.

Lead by example

Experts agree that the way you and your spouse treat each other strongly influences your kid’s relationship choices and how they will treat significant others in the future. Plus, the way you conduct your relationship will also help your child recognize and leave an abusive relationship. So take stock of how you and your spouse treat each other and be a role model for your kids.

Have the sex talk early

Most parents talk to their kids about sex at 11 or 12 years old; yet by this point, most kids already know what sex is. In fact, 42 percent of children ages 10 to 17 have seen porn online, according to survey in the journal Pediatrics.

The best way to talk sex is to give your child age appropriate information throughout childhood and later tie it into relationships. The most important thing to stress? “Everybody needs to be treated with dignity,” Wiseman said. “Everybody needs to be treated with worth, and sexuality is a reflection of that.”

Make them responsible

You can talk to your child about birth control and make sure your daughter gets the HPV vaccine, but making sure your child has safe sex and is also emotionally prepared for it comes down to trust. “As the parent, you have to let them know that you do trust them, but they also have to live up to their responsibility of being very cautious,” Gardere said.

Face the truth

The biggest obstacle parents have when dealing with dating is admitting that their child could be in a messy situation—as a target, victim, bystander or perpetrator, Wiseman said. Acknowledging this reality will allow you to keep the lines of conversation open and prepare your kid to respect and be respected.

Address abuse

Over a third of teens say their partners wanted to know where they were and who they were with at all times, according to a survey by the Love Is Not Abuse campaign. Wiseman said it’s very important to teach your child that if his or her partner is controlling or if your child is afraid about what the other person will think about how they dress or the decisions they make – those are signs of an abusive relationship.

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.