Teens Dating Safely: Essential Advice for Parents

Reading time: 11 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
July 8, 2024
Reviewed by parenting expert
couple of teens dating

What you’ll learn

When a child reaches their teenage years, teens dating becomes a natural part of their social interactions. As parents, guiding them safely is essential. When is your teen ready to date, and how can you prepare them for the risks? Let's explore fostering safe teens dating practices and seeking healthy relationships.

When a child reaches their teenage years, dating becomes a natural part of their social interactions. As early as middle school, kids start going through the motions, asking each other to school dances, flirting, and holding hands. By the time they reach high school, social norms expect them to begin dating – or at least condsidering dating – in earnest.  We all remember being there, but also know that times have changed drastically since our own school days.

As parents, how can we safely guide our teens through the world of dating? When does teens dating become safe? When is your teen ready to date, and how can you prepare them for the risks that come with it? We’re here to explore these important answers as your teen seeks to understand adult relationships in a world of dating apps, cyberbullying, and social media. Let’s walk through how to foster safe teens dating practices and how to teach your teen to seek healthy dating relationships. 

Understanding Teen Dating

There is no one-size-fits-all parenting handbook for teens dating. However, we can define a few universal goals that every parent has for their child as they enter the dating world. We want our kids to pick respectful and trustworthy dating partners and to be respecftul and trustworthy as partners. We want them to practice building healthy relationships and know how to get out of a relationship that isn’t healthy. 

Most importantly, we know that teens are going to date, whether or not it has been forbidden, and that it’s best to approach teens dating in a practical way that gives your teens the tools they need to thrive today and later as adults.

The Landscape of Teens Dating Today

Teen dating is a fact of life as old as humanity, but it also evolves with every generation. Teens dating in the era of mobile technology is much more complex, potentially dangerous, but also more potentially shallow than when today’s parents were in school.

Today’s teen dating landscape involves social media networks, dating apps, cell phones that teens have on them all the time, and a blend of virtual and real life. Many teens care as much about how their relationship looks online as their actual one-on-one experience with the other person, and online interactions can be used as a lever of control, including peer pressure, shaming, or stalking.

Thi isn’t to say all technology use is bad. Online relationships can also be cute and respectful, but the risks are higher.

Teen Dating Apps & Teen Dating Sites

Popular teen dating apps and sites include Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Happn, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Skout. They also meet through private chat apps like WatsApp. While most of these apps require a person to be 17 or older, teens use them anyway.

Apps targeted at teenagers include either “swiping” (yes or no on nearby “matches) or automated match-making lists. Teens can meet kids from their school or local strangers. Unfortunately, there is a high risk of predators of both the teen and adult variety. These apps also encourage teens to search for matches continually rather than seeking one partner for any length of time. Abusive relationships are not uncommon, including ‘ghosting’ after a single date or conversation.

Parental controls and privacy settings are sometimes available, but teens today specialize in slipping around these limitations just as they use apps with an age limit higher than their age.

The Role of Parents in Teen Dating

Parents have always played a delicate role in teens dating. Parents can provide a foundation to help their teens seek healthy teen relationships based on mutual respect and the confidence to resist peer pressure regarding who to date and what to do in a dating situation.

Parents can provide a safe space, set rules that help teens avoid unwanted relationships, and offer useful advice to help teens make decisions that keep them safe physically and emotionally. However, teens are going to date – or not – based on their own inclinations. Parents who are ready to work within that reality are more likely to provide useful influence during their children’s teen years.

How To Parent a Teenager in the Dating World

When guiding young people toward healthy dating, start by setting practical boundaries. Sit down with your teen and talk about boundaries and expectations for their dating behavior. Instead of laying down the law, appeal to their common sense and build a set of rules together:

  • When they can go out;
  • When they should call home;
  • When they can be alone with a partner;
  • When you get to meet a partner;
  • How to stay safe when flirting online;
  • How to protect themselves from strangers who might be predators;
  • When to call for emergency rescue.

Most teens are willing to be practical if you approach from this angle. You’re not dictating, you’re building a safety framework together.

Encourage open communication and introduce open dialogue. Let your teen know that what you care about most is their happiness, physical safety, and emotional health, and invite them to talk, seek advice, or seek comfort whenever they need it. From there, you can lay ground rules like:

  • The importance of mutual respect in a relationship;
  • Only dating people who can respect their feelings and boundaries;
  • Resisting peer pressure regarding who to date and what to do;
  • Being themselves is more important than being who a partner wants;
  • Knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships;
  • Identifying risk behaviors in a romantic relationship.
A teenage boy hides a bouquet of flowers behind his back, preparing to surprise his teen girlfriend

Credit: Pexels

Should My Teen Date?

When is your teen ready to date? Dating can have a significant impact on your teen’s emotional and social development, but so can being banned from dating when everyone else is testing the waters. A teen’s self-esteem, empowerment, and social status in teenage years may be wrapped up in dating or not dating. However, a few rules can help teens resist peer pressure when they do not want to date. 

Cultural and individual considerations may play a role in when you allow your teen to date. Encouraging the safety of group dates, parents meeting the partner, and limiting the context of teens dating can allow your teen to avoid social exclusion when they aren’t yet ready to date, and to use parental strictness as a form of protection.

However, if your teen is self-reliant and able to defend their own psychological space, they may be ready to date on their own steam.

👉 Looking for more insights on parenting teens? Don’t miss our article “Best Chores for Teenagers: How to Instill Good Habits”!

Safety Concerns in Teen Dating

For parents, the biggest concerns regarding teens dating independently are predators and teen dating violence. Identifying and avoiding online predators is a skill kids and teens often learn early. However, many teens are not prepared for the intensity and risk of teen dating violence. This includes both the perpetrators and the victims, neither of whom typically plan for the relationship to go that direction.

It is critical for parents to identify the signs of teen dating violence and help their teens their avoid or escape from these situations when they occur.

What Is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen dating violence is when teens engage in psychological, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse on one another in a dating relationship. It often involves controlling behavior in the context of the relationship. Teens may use variety of violence types to pursue their crushes, express jealousy, disregard the well-being of their partners, abuse each other’s mental health, or even commit sexual assault.

Typically teen dating violence, it is the result of psychological and emotional flaws on both sides of the relationship – in which one teen has a capacity for violence they did not realize and the other allows the violent to occur without ending the relationship. However, it can also occur outside of a relationship context in the form of stalking or non-dating assault.

teenager couple on the sofa, looking at the screen of smartphone

Credit: Pexels

How Often Does Teen Dating Violence Happen?

It is estimated that about 19% of all teen relationships involve some element of teen dating violence. Teens may experience dating violence for the first time and have no idea what to do about it.

Factors contributing to the occurrence of teens dating violence can come from either side of the relationship. These include:

  • History of abuse, violence at home, sexual abuse, or childhood trauma;
  • Emotional control problems;
  • Mental health concerns;
  • Substance use such as alcohol or drugs;
  • Unhealthy personal beliefs about control in a relationship;
  • Too-early sexual activity;
  • Cyberbullying;
  • Inability to deal with jealousy or strong desire.

When teen dating violence occurs, both members of the relationship should receive help. These situations are often an expression of trauma and can create new trauma both for the abuser and the victim. It is also not uncommon for teens to abuse each other, especially in the emotional and psychological realm.

How To Prevent Teen Dating Violence

There are several steps that parents can take to help prevent incidents of teen dating violence and help their teens get out of a relationship going that direction. 

As your teens start to approach dating, make sure that they understand the risks and the importance of acceptable behavior in a relationship – both how they should be treated and how they should treat others.

Educate Your Teen on the Facts

    Make sure your teens know:

    The Risks

    • How teens dating violence can take many forms, and how to identify red flags / warning signs;
    • That teens can commit dating violence in their first relationship, without knowing why;
    • And that some teens are already predators while others are dating for the first time;
    • Sexual assault is possible, and to take precautions.

    Respect and Consent

    • Respect for a person’s boundaries and desired pace in a relationship;
    • Good communication and open dialogue can build a stronger, more mutual relationship;
    • The importance of clear verbal consent for physical and emotional levels of intimacy;
    • That they don’t have to engage in sexual activity with anyone. Their body is their own, and their partner’s body belongs to their partner;
    • That there are many ways to say “No” and “I don’t want to” and these must be respected;
    • That physically controlling another person is never OK.

    Peer Pressure

    • That cyberbullying is not an acceptable tactic to control a relationship;
    • That what others think of their relationship is less important than whether they are happy and healthy with their partner;
    • How “dating offline” can help maintain a healthier relationship.

    Taking Safety Precautions

    Help your teen prepare themselves for the risks of modern dating, and let them know that certain safety measures have always been a part of teens dating long before social media.

    • Introduce the idea of group dates and dates in public places. Help them strategize how to avoid being alone in a car or house with someone they don’t fully trust, even if they like the person and want to date them.
    • Teach them about the “Rescue call”, in which a friend/parent calls partway through a date with an “emergency”. If the date is throwing red-flags, this is the rescue opportunity.
    • Put your teen in self-defense classes if they don’t already have a martial art. This will help them feel confident and capable of fighting off an assault.
    • Tell your teen that they can use you as an excuse. “I’m grounded” or “My mom/dad won’t let me” is an acceptable way to get out of a peer-pressured date they don’t want.

    Lastly, make sure your teen knows that their well-being is the most important thing. Teen dating is supposed to be fun practice, and nothing more. If they feel threatened or the relationship makes them feel bad, they can and should break it off. Then coach them on how to break up kindly and how to protect themselves from breakup drama, when necessary.

    A teenage couple playing video games together on the sofa

    Credit: Pexels

    Guiding Teens Towards Healthy Relationships

    The final step is to help your teen find their way into healthy relationships while avoiding unhealthy connections. The purpose of teens dating is to build the skills and experiences they will need for healthy relationships as adults. Maybe they will date a few people and enjoy the dinners, hand-holding, and gift-giving. On rare occasions, teens will find the love of their life during the high school dating phase.

    The important thing is to help your teens date safely and healthily. Providing a practical guide and involving family members may play an important role.

    Encourage Autonomy

    First, encourage your teen to make their own decisions. An empowered and confident teen is more likely to choose a healthy partner and avoid unhealthy interactions. Teens also benefit from learning how to select a good partner on their own.

    Your goal is to balance parental guidance with personal growth and independence. Fostering self-determination can be done starting in early childhood by guiding them to

    • Make decisions and learn about the consequences;
    • Choose their own activities and manage their own schedule;
    • Budget their allowance and practice financial planning;
    • Schedule time with friends based on parental guidelines.

    Once a teens dating life begins, that self-determination will help them navigate dating with greater self-respect and consideration for how their dating behaviors play a part in the life they want to live.

    What Is Appropriate for a 14-Year-Old Relationship?

    It’s not uncommon for 14-year olds to start experimenting with dating. But what is appropriate for a 14-year-old relationship?

    The best way to approach dating for pre-teens up to 14 years old is to set the same rules as you would with visiting friends.

    • You must meet any friend your pre-teen spends a lot of time with;
    • You want to meet the parents before they go to the other teen’s house or go on outings together;
    • You will provide supervised transportation and oversight of teen activities;
    • No closed doors when spending time together.

    What is appropriate for the relationship should be limited to ‘play dating’. This may include sitting close to each other, holding hands, trading gifts, planning activities together, and pecks on the cheek. However, 14-year-olds likely are not ready to be left alone to explore further intimate behavior.

    A teenage couple stands close together, the girl resting her head on her boyfriend's shoulder, sharing a tender and intimate moment.

    Credit: Pexels

    What Is Appropriate for a 18-Year-Old Relationship?

    18-year-olds are legally adults. While they may still seem immature, they are officially considered able to make their own decisions regarding things like transportation, companions, and sexual activity.

    Parents can set “under my roof” rules, but cannot legally stop 18-year-olds from pursuing fully adult dating behaviors. The best route is to provide a foundation of good sense, advice, emotional support, and protection whenever your teen needs a safe space or potential rescue.

    Helping Your Teen Date Safely

    Teens dating can be a challenging situation for parents, but it’s something that happens in every generation. Teens will become attracted to each other and explore the possibilities through dating behaviors. Parents can set rules, encourage self-determination, and set guidelines to help teens seek out only healthy relationships. Parents can provide protection if a relationship becomes unlealthy. Ultimately, teens are going to date and, soon, they will be adults seeking partners in the real world. The best thing you can do is to provide our teens with the tools they need to understand and pursue healthy relationships for themselves.

    The importance of parental involvement in teens dating is to ensure a safe and healthy foundation. While your teen enters this admittedly nerve-wracking stage of personal development, parents should stay informed, communicate openly, and provide a supportive environment so teens feel safe asking for help when they need it.

    Want to learn more about parenting teens? Join our online masterclasses! Also, Sophie, our AI parenting expert, is here to help anytime.


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    Nemours Kids Health. (n.d.). Childhood stress: How parents can help.

    Otterpohl, N., Wild, E., Havighurst, S. Stiensmeier-Pelster, J., Kehoe, C. (2022). The Interplay of Parental Response to Anger, Adolescent Anger Regulation, and Externalizing and Internalizing Problems: A Longitudinal Study. Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology 50, 225–239.

    Pool, A. (2018, September 04). An Overview of Research on Balanced Parenting. Center for Parent & Teen Communication.

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