Set Dating Rules for Teens

Teen Dating ISU Extension and Outreach

Parenting a teen is full of fun, tender moments and challenges. Entering the “dating game” can be all of these for a family, says Malisa Rader, a family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

When is a teen ready to date? A family must answer this question based upon their own values, Rader said, because teens mature physically long before they have an understanding of the emotions involved with being in an intimate relationship.

“As a parent, you have a right to know who your teen is dating, where he or she is going and what he or she plans to do. It’s a good idea to set some guidelines for where, when, and how often your teen dates,” Rader said.

“A good way to start the conversation is by defining what you mean. Your definition of dating may not be the same as your teen’s definition,” Rader said. “Also remember that there is a fine line between interest and intrusion. Show interest in your teen’s dating, but don’t press to know every detail — that’s intrusion. Teens need the freedom to move in and out of relationships, learning about themselves and others.”

Talk about dating curfews before dating begins, Rader said. Determine what the curfew should be after considering how much sleep a teen needs, what other responsibilities he or she has, and what is reasonable for the family. Also consider the average curfew for his or her friends.

“Teens want limits and boundaries and setting limits shows that you care. Let your teen know that by abiding by these limits, he or she is showing responsibility and maturity, and can earn more lenient curfews in the future,” Rader said.

Finally, avoid being sexist: both girls and boys need limits, Rader added.

Dating can be both positive and negative for teens. Dating can help teens develop good self-esteem, discover who they are and build social and relationship skills, Rader said. But it also can hurt self-esteem, reinforce stereotypical gender roles and set up unrealistic expectations.

Rader said to watch for warning signs of an abusive relationship: a partner who is very controlling, belittling or possessive, or who shows a lot of jealousy or a short temper. Teens caught in abusive relationships may be confused and scared. If they disclose abuse, believe them.

Although most early dating relationship do not last, don’t dismiss them as unimportant, Rader added. “Early relationships can be intense and cause emotional upset when a break-up occurs. Be there to reassure your teen when this happens.” 

By setting up rules for dating, parents can support teens in their development, Rader said.

For more information on parenting teens, check out “Parenting Young Teens: Early Dating” (PM 1547I) and other publications in the Parenting Young Teens series, available for free download from the ISU Extension and Outreach online store, Also see “A Survival Guide for Parents of Teens” from University of Minnesota Extension at

Malisa Rader is an ISU Extension Family Life Program Specialist housed in the Hamilton County Office. Her education and experiences in the field of early childhood and parenting education have developed her passion to empower and strengthen the well-being of children, families, and the communities in which they live. You can reach her at (515) 832-9597 or

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