We all dread the day our teens start dating. After all, it's a sign that they're growing up and starting their journey into adulthood.
But while we would prefer our kids stay young forever, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that girls tend to start dating as early as age 12 and boys as early as 13!
If you think this seems too young, you're not alone. Even Céline Dion thought 15 was too soon for her eldest boy to start having a love interest. But, as Healthline notes, dating is different when you're young, and all it really means is that two people like each other and are starting to spend more time together in larger social groups.
Plus, flipping out on your child when they start dating is "the surest way to get them hiding things in future," warns Dr. Natasha Sharma, a Toronto-based relationship expert and author of The Kindness Journal.
"Don't just come out and say 'Yes' or 'No' [when it comes to dating] — talk to them," Sharma advised parents in an email interview with HuffPost Canada. "Learn about their reasons. Ask them what they are feeling and why they think they're feeling that way. Discover their motivation for dating."
To keep an open dialogue with your teen when they start dating, Sharma recommends parents ask the three questions below to encourage their kids to open up about their dating life and relationships.
1. Why do you think you're ready to start dating (in general)?
The last thing you want is for your teen to get peer pressured into dating, but that does happen sometimes. Once they see all their friends coupling up, they won't want to be the odd one out.
That's why this first question is crucial to helping your teen figure out whether or not they're actually ready to start dating and will (hopefully) encourage them to enter this stage of life for the right reasons.
Additionally, "the first [question] encourages them a chance to demonstrate their awareness of maintaining a healthy balance between social life, family life, and academic life," Sharma added.
2. What are your reasons for dating this person?
Although your teen might not want to open up to you about their dating life, they might not be able to resist spilling all the reasons they like their crush. After all, that beginning stage of puppy love is the most exciting, and most people tend to light up whenever they get a chance to talk about their budding relationship.
This question "encourages [your teen] to put forward real reasons they like someone — not just date for the sake of 'dating' and fitting in," Sharma said.
"Encourage them to date because of a specific person — not for reasons of being like everyone else — and emphasize that at this point in their lives, family life and academic life will largely 'trump' their dating life."
3. Do you know how to be safe and stay emotionally healthy in a relationship? Even if that means being the one to end it if that's the right thing to do for you?
If you have an older teen who has just started dating, this question can be particularly important. While they might think you're being a downer when it comes to their new relationship, this question will at least get them thinking about their emotional readiness to start dating.
As Sharma put it, this question "encourages them to demonstrate emotional maturity and the ability to take care of themselves and advocate for their own health and safety — physically, sexually, and emotionally."
"All three questions encourage your teen to think for themselves and offer up information which can point out whether or not they are emotionally mature to handle dating — without being the one to just 'tell them' or lecture them," Sharma explained.
And while opening up the conversation about relationships is great, she reminded us that it's important for parents speak up if they think their teen is not acting appropriately. However, this should be done gently so their teen doesn't shut down when it comes to talking about their relationship.
"If you don't like something they are doing and need to assert a boundary, do it in a calm and loving way," Sharma advised.
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