(This is the second installment in a series introduced here: Guiding Teens Through Five Major Dating Dynamics)
Whether we love them or hate them, whether or not they are expressly spoken or written, whether we are adults, adolescents, or children, rules are a part of our everyday lives. Rules offer us structure, limits, standards, and direction. Good rules actually help keep us safe, offer us critical guidance in potentially difficult decisions, and make life more manageable. Can rules be oppressive? Yes. And we must take caution not to head down that road with our kids at any age. But give someone the “total freedom” of opportunity and power with no rules? Chaos and mayhem of one kind or another are sure to follow.
Our teens need clear healthy rules to guide them through the dynamics of dating. They just do. No matter how much they may hate us for it. We cannot control our kids’ choices. And they wouldn’t really learn and grow if we did have control over their actions. We cannot guarantee their safety and health, despite our best efforts. And most teens want as few rules as possible from their parents. Yet, we have a great responsibility to give them dating rules that are designed to guide them, protect them, and foster healthy development in them and their relationships. So I offer you these suggestions to help you in the process of setting good rules for your teens engaging in the dating process:
- Make sure rules are reasonable. If you try to impose rules that are so oppressive as to steal all the fun out of dating or that are so difficult as to be nearly impossible to properly obey, you are setting your teen up to despise you, defy you, and/or deceive you. Everyone loses on that deal. Instead, set rules that create helpful boundaries for physical, relational, and moral safety without setting them up for failure or rebellion.
- Make sure rules are clear. Being held to a standard that has not been clearly or adequately explained is terribly unfair and infuriating. For any of us. Let’s be sure we clearly explain to our teens the rules and expectations we will be using as a standard to guide and respond to their behavior. Ask if they have questions. Ask them to explain the rules back to you, whether or not they like them. You may even want to put them in writing, depending on the personality of your teen.
- Review the rules together periodically. Let’s face it, sometimes our teens can be short on attention span and memory, but bursting with passion and enthusiasm. Set them up for greater success by discussing their dating rules on a regular basis. This helps them remember the standards. It gives you a conversational space to warn them in a loving way of places they may be pushing the boundaries. And it creates great opportunities for telling them where you see them succeeding.
- Explain the consequences of violating rules. As parents, we don’t always know until a situation presents itself, what consequence seems most appropriate in response to a specific act or situation. But we can still paint a clear picture of the general type and severity of consequences that will follow breaking specific rules for dating. It would be naive to think our kids will follow all the rules we give them as the result of their total agreement with our perspectives and morals. Knowing what kind of consequences they will face for breaking rules can go a long way toward motivating them to comply, even if they don’t understand or agree with our standards for them.
- Enforce the rules you set. Once you have set a standard for their behavior, they need to be held to that standard. Are there times where grace and mercy are what is most needed? Sure. But if our teens learn that our “rules” are not actually the standard, we have robbed them of important opportunities to grow in personal responsibility. They may hate the consequences of misbehavior, and you may hate the enforcement of it. But you set those rules for their benefit. Remember that.
- Evaluate and update the rules and consequences on a yearly basis. As your teen ages, some rules may need to change with their level of maturity. As you see personal responsibility and good decision-making growing in your daughter or son, be sure to respond appropriately with increased measures of freedom. And make sure you explain your reasons for these changes – what a rewarding conversation to share! In contrast, for teens who are consistently failing to meet the reasonable standards you have set for them in their dating conduct, they may need increased limits and consequences to help them grow up.
Finally, here is a glimpse of the kind of rules for dating we are utilizing at our house. They are still a work in progress, particularly as our son is not yet a fully licensed driver, but here you go:
- Set curfew time
- Only drive “approved” friends
- No drinking or drug use
- Communicate a clear plan for the entire time to parents before leaving
- If anything changes, or you’d like to change it, call parents ASAP to discuss
- Respond to texts/calls from parents promptly