Parenting Relationships

A guide to handling the teen dating milestone

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

One day soon my 12-year-old daughter will come to me and asked the big question, “Can I go out with my friend‘?” Let’s be clear, she will be asking if she can start dating.

For many parents, including myself, that is a moment that we wish we could somehow stall until we are ready for them to date. I believe each time my daughter goes on a date that I would worry for her safety.

Teen dating

If I am being very honest, the preservation of her innocence would be a heavy concern as well. Even though I do not believe she would knowingly allow violent individuals into her universe or make misguided sex-related decisions, as a father I would still worry.

Mostly, I want her to be safe and protected and in moments like these, I would not be present to help ensure either.

It is normal to be worried

My fears are not unfounded. In a recent CDC report it was revealed that, “nearly one in 11 female and approximately one in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.” The report further disclosed that, “about one in nine females and one in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.” The report included strategies to help prevent teen dating violence.

Violence is a worry when in teen dating

Alarming as these statistics are, we must not allow our parental worry to overpower our ability to properly support our children during this natural process.

Our children will get older and eventually they will develop feelings for a special someone and want to spend quality time with that person. If we want to be a guiding force during their dating process.

Additionally, if we want to not be kept in the dark wondering what’s going on with our child, we must demonstrate our willingness to be supportive parent.

Couple walking

The best thing we can do is get ready for this moment so we will be able to position ourselves as a healthy support to our child as they enter into this inevitable life stage. In partnership with my wife, Thea Monyee Winkler, LMFT, we have developed a five-point action plan to help assist with this big moment.

Prepare yourself

The thought or reality of your child dating could bring up some pretty intense feelings. As stated above, if we want to be kept in the loop with our child’s dating life, we must remain supportive.

In order to do this, we should process our feelings with a trusted person about what we are feeling before talking to our children, so we will not intermingle our anxieties into a conversation centering their needs and feelings.

Remain calm

Dating is a healthy and natural part of growing up. Dating is a spectrum ranging from communicating on social media to group dating with their peers and beyond. Ask them for their interpretation/definition of dating.

Couple sitting on bench

Validate their feelings

Remember, you were once a teen. If your teen approaches you regarding their romantic feelings for another person, validate those feelings by listening and responding non-judgmentally.

Maintain open communication

Don’t shut down the conversation and try not to dismiss their feelings. Validate their need to want to have a connection with their romantic interest and discuss your need to know they are safe and protected.

Co-create a plan

Meet with the person and their parents. Remember it’s more than okay to chaperone the first few dates. You can also arrange a two or three group dates. You feel comfortable, feel the time is right allow a non-chaperone or a non-group date.

Two hands make a heart

Mark Winkler is an author, motivational speaker and co-founder of Fatherhood Circle. His new book, My Daughter’s Keeper, is available now from Amazon. For more articles from Mark visit

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