The Dating Game

Dating can be tricky — even for adults! Is your teen ready to test the waters?

Dating can be different for adopted teens

When is it the right time for your teen to start dating? Some parents set a fixed age, hoping maturity will arrive with the birthday cake. Other parents prefer a developmental approach. They determine the emotional supports necessary before dating can begin.

Today’s parents are relatively comfortable talking to children about their changing bodies, but we are still ambivalent about the sexual implications that come with these changes. Parents worry about keeping teens safe. They also want to be sure their child doesn’t focus on a relationship to the detriment of friends and schoolwork. Here are some points that may help you decide if the time is right for dating:

  • Your teen has a group of supportive friends and is prepared to continue these friendships while dating.
  • Your teen is developing his/her own interests and academic pursuits.
  • Your teen explores whether he/she really wants to date, rather than dating because of peer pressure.
  • He/she has an understanding of his/her sexual feelings, and has discussed the level of intimacy appropriate to his/her age and values.
  • Your teen understands how to end a relationship, or how to get help if it becomes overwhelming.

Starting Slowly

Generally, dating starts slowly, often as “going out” with a person at school and spending time together at lunch or at parties. Next, they go to movies or to each other’s homes with a group. Then, a couple will spend more time outside the parents’ scope, in organized activities or at sporting events. Finally, the couple begins to spend time alone.

Don’t wait too long to speak with your child about her emerging sexuality. Girls, especially, are developing earlier sexually, and they may not be prepared emotionally for their powerful feelings.

One 13-year-old divulged that she was unprepared for the strong sexual urges she felt while kissing a boy. She hadn’t thought about limits. “I’m embarrassed to see him at school,” she said.

Some teens, eager for limits, drop hints. One 14-year-old held the phone from her ear asking, “Mom, can I have a guy friend over after school before you get home from work?” “Heavens, no!” came the welcome reply.

Fearing Rejection

A teen who believes her birth family rejected her may be sensitive to other rejections. She may date someone with problems, believing he is less likely to leave her. It’s important to bring this to her attention. One girl admitted, “I always feel drawn to strange guys. I have to stop myself and notice that I’m not really like them.”

Sometimes children wonder how much of their adoption history to share. A 15-year-old boy worried about sharing the details of his difficult past. He relaxed after hearing that there was no need to reveal all at the start of a relationship.

Teens need permission to keep themselves safe and to limit commitments. Guidance and structure allow them to enjoy dating while still in a supportive family environment.


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