Why I let my teen date

The advent of middle teenhood has brought on a slew of stressful new challenges — grades, college-prep exams, varsity-sports dynamics, overscheduling, driving lessons and more. 

Just when you think you’ve had about as much as you can handle, you realize: My kiddo is sure taking a lot of Snapchat selfies. Does he even hear me talking to him right now? Oh, no. This is it: I’ve actually become the elusive Charlie Brown teacher voice. (You know the one — a barely recognizable, dark, muffled noise.) 

No rules? 

It’s not that I didn’t have a plan. I just wasn’t ready to enforce any kind of absolute rules when it came to teen dating. 

My husband and I figured if we tried to get out in front of dating boundaries with strict yes-and-no edicts, we might just be making certain behaviors seem even more exciting or appealing. 

So we've chosen, as with other areas of teen parenting, to take things as they come. 

At 16, our son doesn’t have a set curfew. 

There are some nights — say he’s had a long week and played in a football game — we might say, “How about 10 tonight?”

There are other times — say he’s planning to go to a friend’s house, whose parents are hosting a group of kids — we might say: “What were you thinking for time? Does midnight sound good?”  

Relationship skills

Dating rules have evolved the same way in our home. We meet them with what makes sense in the moment.

Like some parents, I wouldn’t mind putting off any formal dating or serious relationships until college. 

But when you look into the eyes of your child and you see a young man starting back at you, you come to terms with the facts: You can’t tell him to stop what’s going on inside of him any more than you can tell a toddler not to talk or walk. 

We’re made for relationships and companionship. 

Just as with teaching manners — or a work ethic, or driving a car — it’s up to us to show him how to have healthy relationships. What’s more, it’s up to us to try to demonstrate one, too. 

This puts the whole dating thing in an entirely new perspective for me. It becomes less scary and more of an opportunity to equip him to do it right. 

I want him to have success in his relationships. 

While he’s still at home, my husband can talk to him about respecting women. We can tell him when he’s letting dating take over too much of his life and remind him about balance. 

We can practice the art of communication. When is it a great time to text someone and when is it just fabulous to sit eye-to-eye and connect in person instead? 

It comes down to this: I have to trust I’ve given him everything I can as a parent over the years. Now, it’s time for him to use those skills. 

Open and honest

If I choose to be afraid, if I say no to something he might be ready for, if I choose to not recognize his need for a relationship, I might drive him into a corner and make him feel he needs to be ashamed or secretive. Shouldn’t the pursuit of love be our greatest aim? 

I choose to not drive him to secrecy, to get to know who he’s interested in getting to know, to make sure he stays on task and abides by those curfew talks, and to check on his location often. Where is your car parked exactly?

I choose to let him learn about the wonderful the gift of love. 

I was right with my inclination about my son’s selfie-taking. He spends a lot of time snapping the girl he took to homecoming. He washes his football jersey so she can wear it to school on Fridays. 

When she looks up at him, she has a big smile on her face and a sweet glimmer in her eye. 

I invited her over to hang out with us on an upcoming Saturday. 

Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband and two teenagers. Send comments, questions and story ideas to jwizbowski@mnparent.com.