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

tips for handling teen dating

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

It's bound to happen. Your teen starts dating someone that you don't approve of. In fact, it is a classic dilemma almost every parent will face at one point in their life. But how do you handle this situation? Do you tell your teen exactly how you really feel? Or, do you keep your feelings to yourself? This situation is one that will require much consideration—and very careful word choices—when you do bring it up. In other words, it is best to tread very lightly.

Before you start planning your course of action, it is important that you check any negativity at the door.

In other words, ask yourself if you are being judgmental or making unfair assumptions about your teen's dating partner. For instance, are you letting your personal biases or expectations enter into the equation? Are you upset about things like religion, race, or even socioeconomic status?

If these things are at the root of your displeasure, then it might be a good idea to take a step back and engage in some self-examination. If these are not at the root of your concern, and you feel you have good reason to object to the person your teen is dating, then proceed with caution.

In general, it is not a good idea to criticize teens about their dating choices. You should also avoid lecturing and offering too much advice. No matter how well-intentioned you are, when parents come at teens full force and express their displeasure, their teens are bound to not only ignore them but also find the object of their affection even more fascinating. And you will have defeated the purpose—your teen may delve deeper into a relationship that you are hoping is short-lived.

Tips for Handling Your Teen's Dating Choices

Instead, here are some suggestions on how to walk through this minefield without blowing up the relationship you have built with your teen.

Ask Questions

Before you jump 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 and what attracts them to this person. Ask:

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

Be sure you are open-minded and truly listen to your teen's answers. Teens can tell when parents are trying to put them on the spot or highlight reasons why the relationship will never work. So, if you are not in a place where you can genuinely ask questions and be open to the answers, then you may want to hold off on asking about your teen's significant other.

Trust Your Teen

Remind yourself that you raised your teenager. You worked hard to instill values and you have to trust that your teen is going to eventually see that this person contradicts the person you have raised. Trust your teen to make good decisions—eventually.

Additionally, 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 to figure it out.

Even though teenagers can often sense parental disapproval, they still need to follow their own path and make their own decisions.

Extend an Invite

Refrain from making any judgments about your teen's dating choice, and instead take some time to get to know the person. Invite your teen's 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 missed?

Try to see what your teen sees instead of focusing on what you disapprove of or dislike. Keep an open mind and you might find that you are pleasantly surprised.

Look for Positive Traits

When parents are around their teens and their romantic partners, it is important that they keep an open mind. Look for positive personality traits and characteristics. 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 along way in equipping you with understanding and empathy.

This way, if your teen goes through a rough patch or needs to talk about a conflict or problem in the relationship, you will be less likely to say things like "I never liked him anyway," or "I knew she was no good." While you may be right, you don't want to emphasize that. It is much more effective if you have a real understanding of the initial attraction and the loss your teen may be experiencing as the relationship comes to an end.

Make an Effort

As much as you may not like who your teen is dating, be sure you 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. Consequently, parents should do what they can to make their teen's significant other feel welcome in their home.

This way, your teen's dating partner can relax and put forth the best version of him/herself. This might mean striking up a conversation or offering a genuine compliment. The key is to demonstrate to your teen and to the other person that you want to get to know them better. No one enjoys being in a home where they feel unwelcome. So make sure you do your best to be inviting.

Additionally, keep in mind, if the two lovebirds are comfortable in your home, it will be easier for you to observe the relationship and watch how it unfolds. 

Take a Long-Term View

As difficult as it might be for parents to watch their teen date someone they know is not right for them, it is important that parents not rush in to change things.

Instead, it is much more effective if parents take a long-term view of the relationship. Most likely, this relationship is not going to last. Rarely do high school sweethearts make it to the altar. As a result, it can be very effective to remind yourself that the relationship will likely run its course and you just need to be patient and not fret so much.

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, only 35 percent of teens have some experience with dating relationships and only 18 percent are in relationships. So, the likelihood that this relationship is going to last is low. 

Give Your Teen Space

Teens need to learn how to make their own decisions. They also need the freedom to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. If you focus on ending the relationship or controlling the situation, this disrupts the learning process and sabotages your teen's self-esteem and self-confidence.

It's important to allow teens the space to discover who they are in terms of dating. If given space, they will likely discover what they want and do not 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, she/he is 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."

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

Choose Words Carefully

If you do witness something you do not think is appropriate, it is important that you express yourself. Just be sure that you do so 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 instance, if you witness your teen's boyfriend criticizing what she is wearing, you could bring it up by asking her how it makes her feel when he makes comments about her clothes. Ask her what she thinks rather than offering your opinion or telling her flat out that it is wrong. The goal is that she would realize that this type of comment is not part of a healthy relationship

Keep Communication Open

Check in with your teen from time to time about the relationship. Teens should feel like if they are having a problem in the relationship, that they can come to their parents for help without being criticized.

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

Consequently, it is important that your teen feel safe in coming to you and believes that you will help even if you have a different opinion. Make sure your teen feels safe in seeing things differently from you and it will go a long way in keeping the lines of communication open.

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 anyone. Sure, it might make you both uncomfortable, but being educated is an important part of handling intimacy in a healthy way.

Do not be surprised if your teen is angry or put off by the conversation, but if handled correctly you can have a quick conversation in a non-confrontational way.

Also, keep in mind that, according to Pew Research Center, most teens in romantic relationships are not sexually active. 

Intervene If There Is Abuse

When it comes to putting an end to a teen dating relationship or intervening, the only exception to the rule involves teen dating violence and abuse. You should never just sit by if you fear your teen's safety, both emotional and physical, is at risk.

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. Sometimes this might mean contacting the police, getting a restraining order, and working with the school on a safety plan. Also, it is important that the relationship ends on your teen's timing. Rushing into a breakup 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 son or daughter is experiencing dating abuse, let them know there are resources available to them.

For instance, 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 www.thehotline.org 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 they do not care. As a result, when you do discuss the relationship, it is wise not to push your teen or try to control the situation. Most likely your teen will eventually recognize that the relationship is not a good fit.

Until then, you need to be sure you are keeping any hostile disapproval under wraps. The last thing any parents want to do is push their teens closer to their partners and further from them.

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