Dating is an important part of teenage life. As teens break away from their parents and siblings, they form the social bonds and learning the responsibility that they will need to create independent adult lives. Teenage dating provides valuable lessons in respect, communication, and responsibility. Relationships at this stage of development also provide a mirror into your teen's own desires, values and hopes for the type of relationship she wants in the future.
1. Identity Crisis
The central focus of the teen years is the struggle to find an independent identity, according to developmental theorist Erik Erikson. Teens spend an increasing amount of time with their friends, and those friendships take on a deeper importance than they had during childhood. Opposite-sex friendships provide a new perspective on the world, giving teenagers a more complete picture of adult life, according to the McGraw-Hill Online Learning Center's outline on teenage psychosocial development. During the teen years, many of these friendships emerge as dating relationships. Many teens unknowingly base their relationships on projections and fantasies of the other person, states Dr. Carl Pickhardt in a 2012 article for "Psychology Today." These fantasies help teenagers clarify their own desires within a relationship. For example, your teen might develop a crush on the star football player, and believe that he is a perfect gentleman. When they begin dating, she discovers that he is rude and ignores her during football season. The relationship might be short-lived, but your daughter will come out of it aware that she wants a partner who is kind and attentive rather than rude and distant.
2. Practice Relationships
the central crisis of young adulthood is the search for intimacy, and the immature relationships of the teen years provide practice in bonding, relating and building trust, according to Erikson. Teens also learn the social rituals surrounding dating, which can lead to increased confidence in the adult dating scene. For example, at 13, your daughter might say to her boyfriend, "I don't get it. Last week, you said I was amazing and you were in love with me. This week you want to see other girls?" Her 13-year-old boyfriend might respond, "I meant what I said, but now I feel differently. I can't help how I feel." This is a recipe for hurt feelings and anger on both sides. By age 19, the teens have experience in building relationships. Your daughter might say. "I'm glad we decided to take things slowly. I like getting to know you better." Her boyfriend might respond, "Me too. I don't always like moving slowly, but I think it's better. I respect you for slowing things down between us." At 19, the teens have learned to communicate and build lasting bonds.
3. Respect and Communication
Mutual respect and clear communication are essential to all close adult relationships, including friendships and family bonds. In childhood, relationships are generally superficial and based mostly on shared activities. During the teen years, kids learn the skills needed to build deeper relationships. When dating, teenagers learn to balance assertiveness with compromise, to fit a relationship into their existing lives, and to work together to meet both partners’ needs. Most teens are not ready for true intimacy, but these lessons set the groundwork for the future. For example, a 13-year-old might be frustrated with his girlfriend. "I don't get it. Going to the arcade is my favorite thing to do together, and you're tired of it? I'm not going to spend the afternoon you and a bunch of dumb girls." The girl might reply, "You don't ever want to do what I want to do!" At 19, the guy might say, "I burn off stress at the gym. I know you hate the gym, but you like going out with your friends. How about if we take one evening a week for our own interests?" His girlfriend might respond, "That's a great idea. I think it's important not to lose touch with our friends and hobbies." The couple has learned mutual respect, consideration and communication skills.
4. Responsibility and Maturity
Most parents consider dating a privilege rather than a right. You might require your teenager to demonstrate responsibility in other aspects of his life before allowing him to date. In addition, most teens will not remain in a relationship with someone who is irresponsible. The pressures that parents, teachers and friends impose, cause many teenagers to show greater responsibility when they begin dating. Balancing conflicting interests is not easy, but it is a crucial life skill that enhances maturity. For example, your 13-year-old daughter might yell at you when you suggest that her grades are slipping because she is spending too much time with a boy. At 19, your daughter has experienced the repercussions of fixating on a boy – the coach might have dropped her from the team for low grades, and she had a fight with her BFF because she missed the BFF’s birthday—and the boy said she was too clingy. Now, she better understands the need for balance. "I'm sorry, but I can't go out with you tonight or tomorrow. I have to study for mid-terms tonight. Tomorrow is girls' night. How about this weekend?" To which her boyfriend might reply, "Great. The guys will get together for poker. See you this weekend!" Both have felt society’s consequences of irresponsible dating behaviors.
- Phillips Community College: Erikson’s Stages of Development
- McGraw-Hill Online Learning Center: Psychosocial Development During Adolescence
- Psychology Today: “Adolescence and the Teenage Crush.” Carl Pickhardt, PhD.
- Today.com: Five Tips for Teen Dating
- Center for Young Women's Health: Healthy Relationships
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images