Parent To-Dos for Preteen Dating

DO realize that attraction to the opposite gender can happen any time from late elementary school to high school.

DO take your preteen’s relationships seriously and don’t minimize her feelings, no matter how trivial they may seem.

DO realize that the way your preteen views and conducts her relationships now paves the way for future dating relationships.

DO keep the line of communication open with your preteen. Continue dialoging with her so you know how her relationships are progressing.

DO ask your preteen how she defines “dating,” “going out” or “having a boyfriend.”

DO let your preteen know it is okay to express her emotions. This is particularly true for boys who may think they need to suppress their feelings.

DO monitor your preteen’s media exposure. The messages young people receive from music, TV, movies, books and magazines are laden with love, sex and relationships. Make sure these messages line up with the values your family upholds.

DO know your preteen’s friends. They have a tremendous influence on the way your child thinks, talks and acts.

DO teach your preteen that the way she dresses sends a message to others. Clothing should be modest and should not have provocative messages written on it.

DO give your preteen guidance with regard to decision making and what is appropriate. Teach her to make decisions based on careful thought, not heartfelt emotions.

DO be a good role model in the way you conduct your own relationships.

DO set boundaries with regard to relationships and communicate these to your preteen. These could include the following: not being alone with the boy/girlfriend, having parental supervision at home, not being allowed in each other’s bedrooms, no touching, staying in group settings and having a curfew. Equally important to setting boundaries is to help your preteen understand why these boundaries are there so she begins to develop an internal compass.

DO set expectations and communicate these to your preteen. These could include staying focused on academics and extra-curricular activities, maintaining current friendships, time on the phone and Internet, etc.

DO ask your preteen open-ended questions and keep the conversation positive: What do you like about this boy? What do you have in common? How does he treat you? Who are his friends? Do you like them? Do you feel respected by this person? This gets the child thinking about what is important in a relationship.

DO talk with your preteen about respecting others and oneself.

DO honor your preteen’s privacy, but reserve the right to inspect her backpack or room if she begins to show signs that concern you.

DO be an emotional support when the relationship ends. Most preteen relationships are short lived. Your child may or may not be hurt, but your sensitivity and empathy toward the situation will build a healthy trust and bond between you.

DO realize that preteens may question your values, particularly if they don’t line up with media messages or their friends’ values. This is normal and means they are questioning but not necessarily rejecting what you uphold.

DO know when it is time to intervene. If the relationship moves beyond innocent, the preteen becomes obsessive or you begin to see unhealthy behaviors, contact your school counselor or other professional for advice.

DO realize this is the beginning of a long journey for your preteen. Continue to communicate and build as healthy relationship so she learns to successfully navigate this facet of life.

is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.