What to Do When You Don't Like Who Your Teen Is Dating

tips for handling teen dating

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

It's common for a teen to start dating someone that their parents don't approve of or even like. Parents who face this delicate situation need to decide on the best way to handle it without pushing their child away. They often wonder if it's better to tell their teen how they really feel or to keep those opinions to themselves.

This predicament requires special consideration—and very careful word choices—if and when you address it. Remember that your teen cares for and is excited about the person they are dating. Tread very lightly, and check any negativity or catastrophizing at the door.

Start With Self-Reflection

Start by asking yourself if you are being judgmental or making unfair assumptions about your teen's dating partner. Are you letting your personal biases or expectations enter into the equation? Are you upset about religion, race, physical appearance, gender or gender expression, hobbies or interests, or even socioeconomic status?

Be honest with yourself. If these feelings are at the root of your concern, then it might be a good idea to take a step back and engage in some self-reflection.

If personal preferences or prejudices are not among your concerns and you feel you have good reason to object to the person your teen is dating, then proceed with caution. Clearly, if you feel your teen is in an unhealthy relationship, you may need to step in. However, it's important to be sure that your concerns are well-grounded before doing so.

In general, it's not a good idea to criticize teens about their dating choices. Avoid lecturing or offering too much advice. No matter how well-intentioned, when parents come full force to express their displeasure, teens are bound to ignore them.

Your teen may also find the object of their affection even more attractive in the face of your displeasure. If you pressure them, your teen may delve deeper into a relationship that you had hoped would be short-lived.

Rather than throwing down the gauntlet if you don't like who your teen is dating, gather information and approach the situation with an open mind. There are ways to navigate this minefield without blowing up your relationship with your teen.

Ask Questions

Before jumping to conclusions about your teen's choice in dating partners, start by asking questions. The key is to find out what your teen is thinking, what their relationship is really like, and what attracts them to this person. Tailor the questions you have to the specific circumstances of your teen's romance, including anything you wonder about. Try these questions to start:

  • How did you two meet?
  • What are your dating partner's interests?
  • What do you enjoy doing together?
  • What do you like about this person?
  • What do you like best about the relationship?

Be sure you are open-minded and truly listen to your teen's answers. Set any preconceived notions aside and don't jump in until your child is finished speaking. Rather than going right to adding your thoughts and concerns, aim to ask more questions.

Teens can tell when parents are trying to put them on the spot, or are highlighting reasons why the relationship won't work. If you are not in a place where you can genuinely ask questions and be open to the answers, then hold off until you can talk about it from a place of curiosity rather than mistrust or apprehension.

Trust Your Teen

Remind yourself that you raised your teenager. You worked hard to instill values, and you have to trust your teen to make good decisions—eventually. Even though teenagers can often sense parental disapproval, they still need to follow their own path and make their own decisions.

As long as your teen is not in imminent danger, it's often best to keep your feelings to yourself and allow your teen the space and support to figure it out. Plus, acknowledge to yourself that your teen may know better about what type of person or romance is right for them than you do.

Extend an Invite

Refrain from making any quick judgments about your teen's dating choice, and instead take some time to get to know the person. Invite their dating partner over for dinner or to attend a family outing. Then, watch how your teen interacts with this person. Are there redeeming qualities about this person that you may have overlooked?

Keep an open mind and you may find that you are pleasantly surprised. Either way, you will likely end up knowing more about the person and their relationship—and there's a good chance that your teen will appreciate your efforts.

Look for Positive Traits

Everyone has a mix of traits and characteristics—some of which are bound to be good. So, try to view the relationship through your teen's eyes. What does your teen see in this person? What is the attraction?

Understanding where your teen is coming from will go a long way in equipping you with the understanding and empathy you'll need to accept the relationship. Plus, if you do this, you will be less likely to say things like "I never liked them anyway," or "I knew they were no good" if your teen goes through a rough patch or needs to talk about a problem in the relationship. While you may be right, you don't want to emphasize that.

It is much more effective and better for your relationship with your child if you have a real understanding of the attraction to this person and the loss your teen may be experiencing if and when the relationship comes to an end.

Make an Effort

As much as you may not like who your teen is dating, be sure to make every effort to be kind, respectful, and approachable. Remember, if you choose to be rude and standoffish, you will likely receive the same treatment in return. Do what you can to make your teen's significant other feel welcome in your home.

Making an effort to be welcoming can help your teen's dating partner relax and put forth the best version of themselves. Try striking up a conversation or offering a genuine compliment. The key is to demonstrate to your teen and their partner that you want to get to know them better. No one enjoys being in a home where they feel unwelcome. So do your best to be inviting.

Keep in mind that if the two lovebirds are comfortable in your home, it will be easier for you to observe the relationship and monitor how it develops. And your teen will be more likely to turn to you for advice, support, or help if they ever need it.

Take a Long-Term View

As difficult as it might be for you to watch your teen date someone who you feel is not right for them, it's important that not to rush in to change things. It is much more effective to take a long-term view of the relationship.

Realistically, this relationship is unlikely to last. Rarely do high-school sweethearts make it to the altar. It can be very calming to remind yourself that the relationship will likely run its course and you just need to be patient. It's very common for teen relationships to last months or even just weeks before the sparks fizzle out—or they turn their attentions to someone else.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 35% of teens have some experience with dating relationships, and only 18% are actually in relationships. So the likelihood that any particular relationship is going to be long-term is low. 

Give Your Teen Space

Teens need to learn how to make and deal with their own decisions. They also need the freedom to make mistakes and learn from those choices. If you focus on ending their relationships or micromanaging the situation, it disrupts their learning process and sabotages their self-esteem, developing autonomy, and self-confidence.

It's important to allow teens the space to discover who they are, in terms of dating and as a person in general. If given space, they will likely discover both what they want and don't want in a relationship—all of which are important to their future relationships.

Don't Make Threats

Giving your teen an ultimatum is never a good idea. Doing so will only alienate your child. Plus, should your teen keep dating this person, they are much less likely to let you know when your help is actually wanted or needed. The fear is that you will say, "I told you so," or be disappointed in their poor judgment.

As much as you might think this relationship is a bad idea, never resort to threatening your teen in order to get what you want. These tactics are controlling, abusive and rarely effective.

Choose Words Carefully

If you witness something you don't think is appropriate, it's important that you express yourself in a calm and respectful manner. Remember, your teen cares about this person and is likely going to be defensive. Sometimes, it is helpful to speak in general terms when expressing your concerns.

For example, if you witness your teen's dating partner criticizing what they are wearing, you could bring it up by asking how it makes them feel. Ask what they think rather than offering your opinion. The goal is to help them realize that this behavior is not part of a respectful, healthy relationship.

Keep Communication Open

Check in with your teen from time to time about the relationship. Teens should feel that if they are having a problem, they can come to their parents for help without fear of being criticized. Plus, if you make it a regular thing to ask about what's going on, then you'll be more likely to know what's going on in your teen's life.

Most often, teens keep things secret because they fear being judged.

It's important that your teen feels safe coming to you and believes that you will help, even if you have a different opinion. Make sure your teen feels respected, even if they see things differently from you. This will go a long way in keeping the lines of communication open and help to keep your bond strong.

Have the Sex Talk (Again)

If your teen is dating, it is likely that you have already talked about sex, sexting, sexual assault, and other hot-button issues that need to be addressed with teens. And while you may believe there may be little risk of your teen becoming sexually active, or worse, being assaulted, it is always a good idea to talk about these issues with your teen.

A few reminders never hurt. Sure, it might make you both uncomfortable, but being educated is an important part of handling intimacy in a healthy way.

Don't be surprised if your teen is angry or put off by the conversation. If handled correctly, you can have a quick conversation in a non-confrontational way.

Also, keep in mind that most teens in romantic relationships are not sexually active.

Intervene If There Is Abuse

When it comes to intervening in a teen relationship, the exception to the rule is teen dating violence and abuse. You should never just sit by if you fear your teen's safety, either emotional or physical. While you should not assume you can take complete control of the situation, you do need to guide your teen on how to end the relationship and stay safe.

In extreme cases, this might mean contacting the police, getting a restraining order, and working with your teen's school on a safety plan. Also, it is important that the relationship ends on your teen's preferred timing. Rushing into a break-up too soon can not only cause the two to get back together, but it also could put your teen at an increased risk for harm.

If your teen is experiencing dating abuse, let them know there are multiple resources available to them. Also, be sure they know that you're there for them and don't blame them for what happened.

The organization Love Is Respect offers talk, text, and online chat options for people dealing with dating abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) has counselors available day or night to talk, and the website offers the ability to chat live online. The key is to let teens know that they are not alone. Aside from you, they have an entire network of people that want to help them.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that most teens, and even some young adults, yearn for the approval and acceptance of their parents, even if they claim otherwise. Keep this in mind when you discuss their romantic relationship, and remember that it isn't wise to push your teen or try to control the situation. Most likely, with gentle guidance and support, your teen will eventually recognize that the relationship is not a good fit—or it will just run its course.

Until then, aim to keep any hostile disapproval under wraps. The last thing any parent wants to do is push their teen closer to their partner and further from themselves. Instead, focus on protecting what is most important—having a solid, loving bond with your teen.

10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Expect respect: healthy relationships.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Communicating with your teen: avoiding the 'should do'.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. What's the best way to discipline my child?.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. What parents can do to support friendships.

  6. Lantagne A, Furman W. Romantic relationship development: the interplay between age and relationship lengthDev Psychol. 2017;53(9):1738-1749. doi:10.1037/dev0000363

  7. Pew Research Center. Internet Science & Technology. Teens, technology and romantic relationships.

  8. American Academy of Pediatrics. Independence, one step at at time.

  9. American Academy of Pediatrics. Promoting healthy sexual development and sexuality.

  10. American Academy of Pediatrics. Signs of teen dating violence.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.