As any frustrated parent of teen-agers can attest, the years between 12 and 20 are when our children try their hardest to assert their independence and break away from parental authority. It's a normal part of growing up. But parents sill need to hang in there, supervise their teens, and provide rules -- especially when it comes to dating. Below are 10 dating tips each for parents and teen-agers, based on information found in "Sex Smart: 501 Reasons to Hold Off on Sex."
Ten teen dating tips for parents
1. Teens waver between wanting to be independent and wanting to be lovingly watched over by their parents. When it comes to dating, young people want and need guidance. Surveys show that they are, in fact, worried about sex. Parents can help by setting rules that minimize the chances teen-agers will come face to face with pressures they are not mature enough to handle.
2. Until teens are at least 16, they should go out in groups, not have one-on-one dates. Make sure you child knows your view on this before he or she is a teen-ager.
3. Set a curfew for your son and daughter and firmly stick to it. Being able to say, "I have to go home now; I have a curfew" can help kids out of some awkward and risky situations.
4. Tell your teen that he or she may visit the home of a friend of the opposite sex only when parents are home. Make sure you know where your children are after school and who is supervising.
5. If your teen is invited to a party, speak with the parents of the party-giver to make sure they will be chaperoning at all times.
6. Tell your daughter or son to leave immediately if they end up at a party where alcohol and drugs are being used. And warn them to end the date if their partner starts drinking or using drugs. Otherwise, your teen may face aggressive sexual advances, dangerous driving, a date's inability "hear" the word "no" and pressure to join in alcohol and drug use. Drugs and alcohol make it hard to think clearly and stick to one's values. They can also lead to abusive behavior, even date rape.
7. Parents should make it a point to meet their daughter's date as she leaves for the evening. In a relaxed way, parents can ask the couple's plans and when they'll return. They can mention their daughter's curfew. A boy who has met a girl's parents in this way is more likely to act responsibly and respectfully.
8. Parents should not allow their daughter to date boys who are more than two years older than she is. Boys who are several years older may be more focused on sex and may be able to talk younger girls into unprotected intercourse.
9. Make sure your son understands that a girl's "no" must be respected at any point in making out. If he doesn't respect it, he can be charged with attempted rape or rape. Explain that when a boy "uses" a girl, he permanently damages his own sense of self-respect.
10. You know your children better than anyone. Watch for signs. If you think your teen is becoming deeply involved in a relationship and might be considering sex, don't ignore the situation. Talk with your son or daughter and their partner about why it is so important that they postpone sex until they are much older. Speak firmly and with care (ideally, you will have discussed these ideas your teen in the past). Suggest other activities that can make them feel close to their partner.
Ten dating tips for teens
1. Set limits for yourself. Decide what level of physical intimacy you think is right, based on your values. Be prepared to stand up for your point of view and resist pressure to go beyond your limits.
2. Remember, you and your partner have hundreds of romantic options for spending your time together that don't involve sexual intercourse. "Sex Smart" suggests dozens of activities that young couples can enjoy that will strengthen their relationship and promote closeness. Teen couples who get caught up in sex may never be as close as those who express their affection in these other ways.
3. Don't go to parties at homes of kids you don't know. Don't go to parties if the host's parents won't be there. Be honest with your parents about who you'll be with and where you're going. If things get out of control, and you need their help, you don't want to be afraid to call because you might be caught in a lie.
4. Girls should be extremely cautious about dating guys who are several years older. They are much more likely to insist on sex. Dating an older guy sounds cool until you're in his car or apartment and he's insisting on sex -- maybe sex without protection -- and you're feeling uncomfortable, unsure of how to respond and threatened.
5. Many girls these days insist on paying their share of date expenses just because they don't want to feel they "owe" anything. But even if a girl hasn't paid, she doesn't owe sex for money. That's what prostitutes do. A guy's reward for a date is a girl's company -- not sex.
6. At some schools, prom night is sex night. Think over your values and be sure of yourself before prom night. If you believe in postponing sex until you're older, your best date for the prom is someone who shares your values.
7. Drinking or using drugs muddles your judgment and weakens your will to say "no." Alcohol and drug use are connected with up to 80 percent of unplanned teen pregnancies and thousands of new cases of STDs. If you're drinking, you're not thinking.
8. Consider what your clothes are saying about you. If the clothes you wear on a date emphasize your sexuality, your date will assume that sex is a priority with you. Do you want to date someone who is focused on you for sex?
9. Are some of your friends encouraging you to have sex with your girlfriend or boyfriend? If so, are they really the kind of people you should listen to? Real friends help each other make good decisions and look out for each other's futures; they don't nudge each other into risky and questionable behaviors. Be careful about whose advice you're taking. Stick with teens who have their heads on straight and their values in the right place.
10. Practice saying "no" and explaining your views firmly to your date. If you like your girlfriend or boyfriend a lot, you can tell them so, while still insisting that they respect your decision not to have sex. If your date argues even after you've explained your reasons, all you need to say is, "No. It's not a good idea." If you continue to repeat this -- like a broken record -- your date will see that her or his arguments are having no effect on you and will give up. Your date may actually be relieved by your decision -- even though he or she may not like it. A date who doesn't respect your point of view isn't worthy of your affection.
-- This is part two of an eight-part series of columns on teen-age sexuality by Susan Pogany, author of "Sex Smart: 501 Reasons to Hold Off on Sex," available in local bookstores.