Your tween and the dating game


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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MANY parents dread the day their child mentions dating — it's the ultimate sign that your little one is growing up. And this can be a bit scary for parents of tweens, who they may think are too young to even be thinking about the opposite sex. Clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell said that this phase of their development journey can be tricky, and so parental involvement and support is crucial for best results.

“Dating, unfortunately, has significantly changed — children are no longer dating in the traditional sense. For example, before children would be happy to get a call from their dates, but now with the advent of the cellphone, kids are constantly talking or texting so it is not so special anymore. This advancement in technology has caused quite a bit of concern for modern-day parents who worry that the negative, violent and sexual content may influence their children's behaviour,” Dr Bell said.

But Dr Bell said that establishing a set of rules for your child will not only keep him/her safe, but will possibly reduce a host of challenges that can arise. Below, she shared tips on establishing these rules, setting expectations for your children, and helping them to keep their end of the bargain.

Be firm

With your dating tween, the last thing that you want to be is a flip-flopping parent. You don't get to bend the rules here and there and expect that your child will respect the rules that you had initially set. Some things to consider, for example, are whether or not the tweens will always have adult supervision, or where they are permitted to go.

Take your child on a date

It's not a safety net, but you can use this opportunity to model good behaviour. Show your tween what dating should be like, and what to expect. You can also use the opportunity to establish trust between you and them — explain the difference between healthy and unhealthy interactions and also offer yourself as someone your child can talk to about anything.

Encourage your child to take things slowly

This is perhaps one of the most important steps. Dating is quite risky — there are words like “love” and “admire” floating around that will increase the possibility of heartbreak. Outside of this you also want to encourage your child to stay away from sexual activities.

Teach responsible dating

In this age when everything is sexualised, the job of parents is twice as hard. Insist that your children do not watch television content that is highly sexual when dating since this may increase the possibility of your child wanting to explore. In addition to this, Dr Bell said that you also need to talk to children about identifying manipulative language and rejecting such. For example, teach them to recognise lines such as, “do it because you love me”, or “so why did you wear that or come to my space if you didn't want it?”

Be careful on the Internet

A practice that is becoming increasingly common is tweens sharing explicit photos — you need to make it clear to your child that this is prohibited for their safety. Not only can they be used to coerce sex by threatening their release, but for revenge purposes they may be uploaded online which of course can cause great damage to your child's self-esteem.

Do not allow your child to date an older person

Never allow your child to date someone older than him/her. The possibility is there for manipulation and/or pressure to become involved in adult matters.

Pay attention to your child's behaviour

For some tweens, dating is more like a relationship and so you have to keep an eye out for this. Some tweens date for lengthy periods and when these dating relationships are unhealthy you can sometimes pick this up. There will be clear signals that your child may be in trouble and so you want to put a handle on the situation before it worsens.

Learn all you can about the person your child is dating

It is important that you do this for obvious reasons. Is he/she involved in activities that you try to keep your child away from? Learn about his/her parents too, so that you can know whom to contact if needs be.

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