The Dating Game

The other day, I found myself being caught by surprise by the uninhibited tone of a teenager’s conversation. It’s not been all that long since I myself was a teenager, but the gap is virtually unbridgeable. While dating, drugs and alcohol have been around for a while, today’s permissive society has created a brand new sub culture in today’s teenagers. What characterizes these new teenagers of urban India? By and large, they are more techno savvy, more materially inclined, more vanity conscious and more ambitious. Professions with high visibility and glamour and with piles of money attract them. Dating and late night partying have become common. The new teenager believes in working hard and partying hard. Sometimes as a result, family values and other gentler values of life get eroded. With the information explosion, there is little place left for innocence or even for enjoying the kind of simpler, less competitive childhood that we had. And with the loss of innocence, there’s lots more for parents to worry about too.

One of the prominent worries of parents is with regard to dating. Should you allow it, can you prevent it, how do you limit it? When every book, film and TV programme discusses the romance and enjoyment of dating, how can you convince your teenager of the darker side of careless dating – from loss of reputation to the dangers of date rape and unwanted pregnancies? Loss of reputation – even the very words smack of an old fashioned narrow-minded outlook. Unfortunately, society is still a lot more conservative than appearances even in urban areas, would suggest. Besides, there are other health and safety issues involved and there are few parents who would face the specter of daily late nights for their children, with equanimity. Whether boy or girl, adjusting to dating as a way of life is still not easy for most parents. But what is it that you can do? Let’s take a look at some of the options available –

  • Turn authoritarian – Good option if you want to start a battle you can’t win. The result of open parental threats is either sullen resentment or non-cooperation or out and out civil disobedience. Make this your absolutely last resort.
  • Be understanding – much better because you get to know what’s really happening and may even get to influence the result. But this works only if your child already considers you a non-judgmental friend to confide in. Its also extremely difficult to remember your role of concerned non judgement when faced with some youthful folly that you feel strongly about.
  • Be a parent – Its good to be friendly with your children and excellent if you can listen with love and a suspension of judgement. But that’s not enough as many a parent has discovered. Ultimately as a parent, there are certain responsibilities, chief of which is to guide. Friendly communication should be a means of achieving least interference guidance rather than an achievement of easy popularity. So listen and don’t be hasty to condemn but don’t hesitate to point out uncomfortable truths – gently and lovingly but clearly.

Ok, now you have a method of communication, but what exactly are you planning to convey? Obviously a flat no isn’t advisable but neither is a permanent and unconditional yes. What you need to do is to sit your child down for an open discussion on the topic. Make it clear that before you decide anything, you wish to discover the child’s feelings on something that so closely affects him. Does he wish to date? Is his attitude influenced by peer pressure? What does he define as dating – one to one outings or group get-togethers? How many times a week does he envisage such outings? Where is he planning to get the money for these dates and any other incidental expenditure? Has he thought about the effects on his studies and hobbies? Once these issues are clarified, then both of you are in a better position to make feasible decisions.

The next step is to discuss your concerns. Whether the child considers them valid or not is immaterial, just as he would like his feelings considered so would you. Tell him honestly of your fears and doubts and you may be pleasantly surprised by your child’s maturity.

The third and final step is to lay down limits, which you are both, comfortable with. And then sticking to them!

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