Talking to Your Kid About Dating, and Not Dating
A therapist specializing in teen mental health, a mom, and relationship counselors weigh in.
When you were your teenager’s age, you couldn’t wait to date. Your teen, however, might show no interest at all. Should you be concerned?
THE COUNSELORS FOCUSED ON BUILDING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS SAY…
“Dating and not dating are both totally normal behaviors for teens. Maybe they’re perfectly happy being single, or a friend had a bad dating experience. Maybe between school, friends, and extracurricular activities they just don’t have the time. Being able to have a conversation about dating with your teen is more important than focusing on the reason why they aren’t interested.
Dating is just one of the types of relationships we experience, including those with friends, family, teammates, coworkers, etc. If a teen doesn’t want to talk about dating relationships, try talking about overall relationship skills like assertive communication, boundary-setting, and building trust, which are as important in non-romantic relationships as romantic ones.
Approach conversations willing to listen—resist the urge to lecture—to encourage teens to talk more openly.”
—Nick Sabolik, intervention specialist, and Mollie Putnam, prevention manager at Project PAVE, an organization dedicated to helping youth build healthy relationships
THE THERAPIST FOR TEENS SAYS…
“Teens are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and who their community is —meaning people who understand and accept their different identities. When we date someone, we’re adding to, or taking away from, our community. Whether we’re going to engage in dating someone has a lot to do with that community piece.
Studies show that youth who opted out of dating had less depression overall, and greater social skills. It seems counterintuitive because the narrative is that dating builds social skills, which can be true. But when you date, you focus your social skills on one type of person. When you don’t date, you focus on enhancing your social skills with whomever is around you.”
—Lena McCain, founder and lead psychotherapist, Interfaith Bridge Counseling, PLLC
THE MOM SAYS…
“Neither of our kids shows an interest in dating but they do hang out in friend groups. My son has some anxiety issues and is focused on school right now. My daughter says dating isn’t a big thing these days, plus, she wants to avoid relationship drama.
Lots of kids are figuring out their sexuality and gender identity, so pushing too hard for them to date is not necessarily helpful. We just hope they find someone to make them happy eventually and that not “practicing” dating won’t impede them when the right person comes along. In some ways, I think the longer they wait, the more they’ll know themselves and know what they’re looking for. Once they’ve had the chance to live away from home and explore their environments on their own, they’re more likely to find a person who fits with their lifestyle.”
—Melinda H., Denver mom of son, age 20, and daughter, age 18