Dating is a big deal to adolescents -- and rightfully so. Teens become more self-aware through involvement in romantic relationships, and learn how to interact with others on an intimate level, says Anita Gurian, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Dating also gives teens the chance to engage in independent decision-making -- making both favorable and unfavorable choices -- which is experience they'll need in order to navigate through adulthood.
Dating helps teens develop their interpersonal skills. Through romantic relationships teens learn how to listen to their partners, communicate thoughts and feelings, apologize and empathize with their partner's emotions, notes Gurian. The skills developed during adolescence will largely influence the way teens interact with romantic partners in adulthood. Whether teens learn to use effective communication with others, or resort to yelling and screaming during disputes, these interpersonal practices often accompany teens into adulthood. With this in mind, it's important for adolescents to learn healthy ways to interact, such as active listening, communicating effectively and respectfully, and finding healthy ways to resolve conflict.
Teens who are allowed to date -- under parental supervision -- can gain experience with safe dating practices that will have a significant impact on their lives as adults. This is the time to discuss issues such as as abusive relationships, safe sexual practices and setting personal boundaries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website defines dating violence as verbal, physical and psychological abuse -- including stalking. Teens in abusive relationships should let their parents or a trusted adult know immediately to prevent further harm.
Healthy Decision Making
Dating allows teens to practice making healthy choices. Parents should set parameters for their teens to follow, such as curfew times, places teens can and cannot go on dates and when and how teens should be supervised, but ultimately teens will make the majority of their own choices in a romantic relationship. Parents can and should encourage their teens to make healthy choices, such as choosing to either use contraceptives to prevent against STDs and pregnancy, or abstaining from sexual activity altogether and the Idaho Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Violence website says it's never too late to open a dialogue about these issues. Keep the dialogue and conversations going so that your teen understands the importance of making healthy choices.
Keeping Things in Perspective
It's natural for teenagers to feel highly emotional about their romantic relationships, so parents should encourage teens to take things slow when dating. Be careful not to undermine the importance of your teen's experiences, which can cause distrust and resentment; more that parents and teens should be aware that because the adolescent brain hasn't fully developed, many teens' decisions and perceptions are influenced by their emotions, explains professor of psychiatry Deborah Yurgelun-Todd with PBS.org. The best course of action should be to encourage teens to keep it light and have fun in their relationships -- without making serious, life-long commitments -- so they can fully enjoy their adolescence.