At what age should kids be allowed to date?

As much as we would sometimes love to hold back the years and keep our tweens and teens from advancing into adulthood — and all it entails — milestones will come along that parents must accept and deal with in a rational way. Dating is one such cringe-inducing (for some, like me) milestone. What even constitutes dating in the 21st century? Some kids use it as a label only; they don’t “go” anywhere. They spend most of their interactions via FaceTime or texting, often never even together at school. So what’s the harm? And could there even be benefits to these early forays into learning how to be in a relationship, of any kind?

Cecilia U. » Nashua, age 39
Mom to two sons, ages 16 and 21

Allowing them to date seems like you are somehow giving permission for them to “kiss” (in their eyes). I’ve said 15 is a good age depending on behavior and academics. Although, I somehow intimidated my oldest and he never admitted or brought a girl home until 10th grade. Then at 18 they became pregnant and had a baby.

My youngest wasn’t really into girls or dating, as he was more self-conscious about his body and looks, so he waited until this year (he is now 16).

I feel like 15 is a decent age — with clear boundaries and having “the talk.” I feel like if you aren’t ready to have the talk, then you aren’t ready for your kids to date. There is more information out there and kids know things much earlier than we did, so I feel it’s better to come from the ones they trust if you can keep it from becoming awkward.

And the intimidation came from me being a single Latina mother, letting them know that if they ever wanted to bring a girl home they needed to introduce me to them because I wouldn’t allow it any other way. Me having boys probably also played a part in my decision. If I’d had a girl, she’d probably still be locked in the basement!

Kathy G. » Bedford, age 49
Mom to two sons, ages 12 and 15

I didn’t have my first date until I was 17. I don’t remember there being any rules about a specific age when I could start dating, but any guy I dated had to pass the “four older brothers test.” They would line up with their arms crossed leaning against the kitchen counter, and the potential date would be interviewed.

My initial response to this question now, as a mom, would have been 16. However, my older son, age 15, has become really good friends with a girl with whom he does karate. She’s a really nice girl and she actually came over the house to visit this weekend. I used to feel strongly about no dating until 16. The extenuating circumstance that changed my mind is the fact that she’s really, really sweet. She’s a nice girl and has really nice parents. She seems like she’d actually be a positive influence on my son. Plus she has a car, so she can tote him around!

As far as my younger son goes, he is 12. I feel the same way about him: no dating until age 16. That could also have something to do with the fact that every time I look at him, I see an 8-year-old boy.

Larry W. » Amherst, age 41
Dad to two daughters, ages 12 and 8

This issue has already come up at our house this past year —at the age of 12. What we permitted was an hour of “hangout” at the school — say, the skateboard park, the basketball hoop. I was informed that there was some hand-holding on the bus during a field trip; I was frankly thrilled to even be told this information. And that [hand holding] is age-appropriate.

But then there were the requests for movie dates, specifically for us to pick up, drop off and then go get her and the boy after the movie. That got the kibosh. We were also asked if they could walk around the mall unsupervised, which was also a “no.”

I was surprised to hear how much actual dating was taking place in seventh grade. I guess my husband and I are slightly more conservative than other parents. We considered having our daughter’s crush over to watch a movie in the living room. Allegedly other households were allowing movies in unsupervised finished basements. One family had taken along their child’s crush on a weekend vacation in Cape Cod.

Bottom line, we were OK with minor afterschool “dating” and hand-holding, but high school seems the most appropriate time to start dating for real, to us. But it will depend a lot on her behavior and maturity.

Liz B. » Milford, age 52
Mom to a son, age 17

I have always been puzzled by this question. I started hearing it when my now 17-year-old son was 9 or 10 years old. The cute TV shows on Nickelodeon and Disney show “boyfriends and girlfriends” at young ages — and the kids are watching. Kids have wanted to grow up quickly since the beginning of time and they practice, pretend and role play throughout their whole childhoods.

My son exhibited a strong attraction to girls from a very young age and always had very close friends that he was “going to marry” when he got older (Sydney, we still miss you). So we weren’t surprised when, at age 11, he asked to take a girl on a “date.” Our answer was a resounding yes. We picked up his date, he went to the door by himself, his date’s mom came to the car and met us, we sat at the back of the movie theater, and he and his date sat at the front. The “relationship” lasted a few weeks of FaceTime chats and seeing each other at summer camp.

When kids are young, they are learning how to be in this world. It is important for them to learn about relationships and communication. At that young age, it’s just practice. They’re not having adult interactions; they’re learning how to be friends, how to talk to each other and how to treat a partner.

If dating is taboo, if you need to wait until you’re “old enough,” it teaches kids that relationships are age specific and they can’t have one with someone they’re attracted to until a specified date in the future. They are missing out on learning about so many things important to a successful relationship.

My son has been dating (if that’s what you want to call it) for several years now, and his relationships are maturing. The parents of the girls he dates have always told me how much they like him, how respectful he is, etc. I believe it’s because he knows how to be a good partner, is respectful and has learned from his own experiences.

Categories: Tween Us Parents