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 you don't approve of or don't like. In fact, it is a classic dilemma almost every parent will face at one point in their life. But how do you best handle this situation? Is it better to tell your teen exactly how you really feel, or do you keep your feelings to yourself? This situation is one that requires special consideration—and very careful word choices—if and when you address it. 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.

Start With Self-Reflection

Start by asking 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 concern, then it might be a good idea to take a step back and engage in some self-reflection. If these issues 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.

In general, it's not a good idea to criticize teens about their dating choices. You should avoid lecturing or offering too much advice. No matter how well-intentioned, when parents come full force to express their displeasure, their teens are bound to not only ignore them but also find the object of their affection even more attractive. You may find that your plan backfires as your teen may delve deeper into a relationship that you had hoped would be short-lived.

Tips for Handling Your Teen's Dating Choices

Below are some suggestions on how 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 and what attracts them to this person. Ask them:

  • 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 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 you may want to hold off on asking about your teen's dating partner.

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.

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 quick 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 overlooked?

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

Look for Positive Traits

When parents are around their teens and their romantic partners, it's important that they keep an open mind. 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.

If you do this, you will be less likely to say things like "I never liked him anyway," or "I knew she was 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 initial attraction 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 standoff-ish, 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.

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 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 monitor how it develops. 

Take a Long-Term View

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

It is much more effective for parents to 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. So, it can be very calming to remind yourself that the relationship will likely run its course and you just need to be patient.

In fact, 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 this 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 mistakes. If you focus on ending their relationships or micromanaging the situation, it disrupts their 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 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."

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 and abusive and rarely produce the results you want.

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 would 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 in their relationship, they can come to their parents for help without fear of being criticized.

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

Consequently, 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 OK 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.

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

Intervene If There Is Abuse

When it comes to intervening or putting an end to a teen relationship, the 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.

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 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 teen is experiencing dating abuse, let them know there are multiple resources available to them.

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 do discuss the relationship, and remember that it is wise to not push your teen or try to control the situation. Most likely, and with your help, 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 parent wants to do is push their teen closer to their partner and further from themselves.

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  1. Pew Research Center. Internet & Technology. Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships. Published October 2015.

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