The SOF Team
Does your child finally want to date? It’s time to have a meaningful discussion
How to facilitate a positive, educational discussion on dating for children and teens with challenges.
Image source: Children’s Wisconsin
Regardless of their challenges, teens and young adults want to be teens. They will likely want to go out to the movies with someone, hold hands, and kiss. They’re going to want to do all the things a typical teenager would like to do. However, this stage of life can be difficult for young people with challenges. If you notice that they’ve started to express interest in someone or are asking questions, now is the time to sit down and discuss dating––what it means, and how they can approach someone they like the right way.
What does it mean to date?
Before they can date, young adults with challenges must have a firm concept of what it means. They may be interested in someone but do not understand how to express it or are scared of their emotions. Dating can be complicated for them for countless reasons, so it is vital to help your child understand their feelings and how to handle them properly.
Image Source: Center for Parent and Teen Communication
Talk to your teen about what it means to like someone and how one starts to date another person. They may already have their own opinions about what it means to be dating based on social media, shows, movies, and their conversations with friends. Teens all have different versions of what it means to be dating, mainly depending on their age and maturity level. Some believe it means you sit beside each other each day at lunch; some believe you kiss and hold hands. As a parent, you must understand your child’s idea of what dating means to them.
Using this information, you can then discuss what types of people they might be interested in considering as dating partners––if they haven’t established this already. Some teens may know who they are interested in, but others may not. Others may not know what qualities are good to have in a partner, such as trust, honesty, and friendship. Talk to your teen about what a healthy relationship can look like and what actions they can take to have a happy, healthy relationship with someone. Give them the basics, such as discussion topics and activities they could do with their partner.
But also prepare them for when a relationship might not work out, what that can look like, and how they can manage it. Discuss whether or not they believe this is something they can handle––both the relationship and its potential ending if things do not work out. It is crucial to ensure they are prepared for everything that could happen.
Image Source: Your Teen Magazine
Expectations and guidelines for appropriate behavior
After gaining that understanding, you can talk to your teen about the feelings and sensations they may experience when they are close to a person they find attractive. Their sexuality may confuse them, so help explain what they are feeling in clear, simple terms.
In addition, you may also want to clearly explain some of the simple expectations that others have, such as keeping your hands to yourself unless given consent or communication that it is okay. Respecting others’ space is an essential lesson for them to understand for their safety and their partners.
You may want to give them an understanding of what behaviors are appropriate:
Appropriate behavior in public (PDA)
Appropriate touch vs. inappropriate touch—e.g., handholding vs. groping or grabbing
Appropriate dating activities and places to go vs. inappropriate ones
Ultimately, depending on the level at which they already understood the concept of liking someone and dating, and depending on your child’s age, you will have to determine how much you want to explain and how in-depth you want to go. Once you find out what your child already knows, you can proceed and have a comfortable conversation.