Counseling Corner: How to help your teen date responsibly

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Summer is here and with it more opportunities for teen dating and parental worrying. While we all realize that itís natural for teenagers to be attracted to one another, most parents agonize over the whole dating experience and all the things that can go wrong.

To help things go right, and to lower your parental levels of anxiety, there are some steps you can take to help minimize the potential problems of teen dating.

Communication is step one and absolutely essential. Start your discussion of dating as early as the junior high years, or even earlier. Actual dating may still be a few years away, but you can plant the seeds now for responsible dating.

Try developing with your child some basic rules and expectations. Discuss the appropriate age for couple or group dates. Talk about curfews and your expectations regarding driving, behavior and appropriate destinations. You should take the lead as the parent, but include your child in the discussion and get his or her agreement that what youíre proposing makes sense for both of you.

You also want to have honest discussions about sex and morality. Share your own moral views and talk about AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and the emotional issues related to sex. If you find such discussions difficult, try enlisting a professional counselor, physician or member of the clergy to help.

And prepare for emergencies because they will happen. Does your child have a cell phone? Enough money for an emergency cab ride home? A backup person to call if you or your spouse arenít available? Discuss how to handle problem situations like an auto accident, a drunk or abusive date, or other potential dating disasters.

Most important, make it clear youíll be there for your teen. He or she should never be too afraid to call you. Let your child know that when thereís a problem, you will come to the rescue, wherever and whenever, no questions asked.

The teen dating years require your attention. Most teens wonít share dating details, but will give clues when things arenít right. Look and listen for problems, from drinking to drugs to inappropriate relationships. Donít be paranoid, but respect your intuition. Ask questions and act swiftly when you sense something may be wrong.

Yes, teen dating is a challenge for any teen, but the truth is that itís probably just as hard on the parents.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit www.counseling.org.

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