Single Parent Faith

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Laying the Groundwork for Our Kids' Future Dating Habits

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Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means. — Albert Einstein

My daughter was about 11 yrs old at the time, when I realized how at such a tender age, kids are already in the throes of dating. Of course in their world the decision to go out and break up occurs often all in one day.  And the criteria used is very rudimentary: “Are they cute?” Or in more modern terms: “Are they hot?” which you don’t exactly expect to hear out of the mouth of your child. The criteria pretty much starts and ends there, unless we teach them differently.

For this reason, the adolescent years are definitely not too early to begin discussing the dating topic. In fact, if you don’t begin early establishing the norm of open communication, they will recoil from you more than the usual clamming up moments in their teen years. No matter what age, if your child says they are “going” with someone or that they already have, then what are you waiting for? Get started engaging them in dialogue!

Realizing that my daughter had limited criteria to determine whether it was wise to answer “yes” or “no” when a boy asked her out, I realized that this is how most of us are raised. How can we expect our kids to fend for themselves and navigate through this without a guide?

As a parent, I have the chance to teach her vital life tools which will carry her into adulthood, empowering her to make self-loving and safe choices.

It’s critical that I teach her at a young age, how important it is for her to know what character qualities to look for— not only for a future boyfriend and husband, but also the same qualities apply toward picking good friends.

I, like many of my adult friends, stumbled onto the qualities that are essential for a life-time fulfilling relationship. Most of my friends and I didn’t experience in our youth, parents that had this kind of dialogue with us. For me, how I learned was through the time consuming process of relationship failures, which created a natural, but costly, process of elimination. I was the classic, “I don’t know what I want. I just know what I don’t want.” 

At some point in my late 30’s I began to see how not knowing what I want set me up for all my relationship failures. To turn this around, I realized I had to start with me and I began to reinvent how I think, in order to empower myself from the start to make proactive choices.

I reflected on my past relationships and sifted out the good qualities they possessed. The destructive or negative qualities I converted into their positive counter. For instance, if a guy was a liar, I wouldn’t put on my list: “Not a liar,” but rather I flipped it and recorded the positive attribute, such as “Honest.” I began my list from this.

I asked my daughter to write a list of all the qualities she thinks a good guy should possess. She needed some help to get started, so I asked her questions to prompt her. “How do you want him to treat you? To treat others?” Then she got the hang of it and came up with a list of about 10 items. She chose to post it on the inside of her closet door, and as she thought of other items, she added them to the list.

When my daughter would reveal that a boy asked her out, I asked her if she looked at her list, to check his qualities with what’s important on her list. Sometimes she revealed after the fact, that a boy asked her out and she accepted. I wouldn’t get upset, but calmly walked her through the layers. My intent was to help her along this process, so that it would become a natural part of “her process” one day.

Kids don’t come equipped already knowing how to differentiate and perform the necessary evaluation of a person’s character or intent, before determining if this person is good to let into their world. Our kids learning this at a young age is paramount in helping set up their sense of self-respect and self-love. 

If we teach our kids that they deserve to be treated respectfully, then that must be an item on the list. We can talk about examples of what respect looks and feels like, and what it doesn’t. Until we do this, they cannot be prepared to ward off disrespectful behavior toward them.

I taught my daughter that God made her and she is precious to Him and her parents, family, and friends. But that she also must see herself as precious, otherwise boys will sense she doesn’t consider love herself, and will mistreat her. Of course this dialogue is also connected to how I treat her. I cannot treat her disrespectfully and expect her to then respect herself. 

Throughout the years, I was a broken record when it came to reminding my daughter that she needed to get to know and observe someone first, before deciding if he was good boyfriend material. In a kid’s world, how does she know if someone is good boyfriend material, if she doesn’t have a point of reference to draw from? Her list, became her point of reference, as well as our many conversations.

At 11 yrs old, she told me she was “going” with Jake, a cute boy in her class.
“Does Jake have any brothers or sisters?”
“I don’t know.”
“Does he live with his mother and father?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tell me what you know about him.”
“He treats other kids nice.”
“That’s good, that’s very important. How does he treat you?”
That’s very important too.”

The questions I asked were simple in nature, but as she got older I’d add other important and more mature information that she needed to consider.

“Why did he leave his high school in the middle of his senior year to come to attend this  school? (His family had not moved. My concern was that a sudden move like this in the middle of a school year could be due to some negative event, perhaps, disciplinary action the school took on him?)
“I don’t know."
“You need to ask.”

Some time later she introduced him to me, bringing him home after school one day. In casual conversation, I asked that question. His answer, “I really like this high school a lot and the kids are really friendly.”

Noticing he didn’t answer my question I asked again, and he responded, “No reason really, just like this school a lot.”

After he left, my daughter asked me what I thought of him, “He’s friendly, and he seems to be very close to his parents by how he talks about them. But there’s something important that concerns me. He never answered my question about why he transferred schools, though I asked twice.”

“Well mom, you make him nervous. And he’s a teenager, so he’s not going to want to tell you something that’s going to make you not like him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Okay, so he told me that he was caught drag racing in the school parking lot and got in trouble. That’s why he left.”

“Okay, then, take note of this. Notice how he evaded my question and didn’t offer up the truth—basically he lied to me. I would have respected him if he owned up to what he did.  If he said he got in trouble, but learned from it. But instead he took the coward’s way out and lied. Take note that how he handled this tells you a lot about his character. If he will do this to your mother, he will do it to you as well. So keep your eyes and ears open.”

A few days later, a friend of hers saw him at a coffee shop with a girl. In high school, thankfully kids tell on kids. When my daughter confronted him with this info, he claimed she needed a ride home.

My daughter said, “I’m not sure if I believe him,” especially since it didn’t explain why it had to include hanging out with her too.

“I think you’re smart to be aware.”

A few days later, when my daughter went to lunch with her girl friend, she saw him having lunch with another girl. After that my daughter didn’t believe any more of his convenient explanations and broke up with him.

There are countless opportunities that present themselves to our kids. All of these are great teaching moments for us to teach them what questions they should ask, what to notice when the person speaks, and what to notice in their behavior.

  • Are they really answering the question or dodging it?
  • Are they offering up freely additional details without you having to ask specifically for each?
  • Are they comfortable with you asking questions?
  • If they refuse to talk about it, run. He’s nothing but trouble.
  • Are they making you feel badly for asking questions? Are they putting a guilt trip on you, questioning whether you trust them? (Trust is earned, and any guy who immediately expects you to trust him, a stranger, is bad news and is not to be trusted.) 
  • Are they blaming it on you? Calling you jealous (deflecting blame onto you) instead of taking accountability.
  • Do their actions match their words?
It’s incredible how kids and teens can exhibit the same dysfunctional behavior that adults do. They don’t just magically grow into dysfunctional adults, they are already exhibiting dysfunctional behavior at a very young age. Just like we as loving and involved parents can teach our kids healthy behaviors, dysfunctional parents are also passing along their dysfunctions. So the earlier you begin the dating dialogue with your kids, the better.

Now that my daughter is 17 yrs old, I see that she now gets it. She shared recently that at her school, a guy asked her out. Incredulous she said to me, “Mom! He doesn’t even know anything about me and he’s asking me out!” She told him no.

The conversation kept going as she continued sharing more. And the more she talked the more I smiled, because the last 17 years of dialogue was bearing fruit. 

Ella Venezia
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.


  1. This is so important to teach our children. I actually was thinking about this the other day. We don't have children yet - but there are so many things that need to be set as ground work earlier on. I know there are things that I wish had been laid a little bit more boldly earlier on, so I learned them the hard way.

    I'm enjoyed reading your approach and how well it worked, and it's wonderful that you and your daughter are close enough everything is talked about and she seems to keep her ears open to your advice! :)

  2. Kristina- So glad to hear from you considering how busy you must be now. Yes, my philosophy has been to try to talk about subjects as honestly and openly with her, taking into account her understanding level and age. She doesn't need to hear about a lot of stuff at too early of an age that she's not ready for. But with her coming to me asking questions, and me listening, I gauged where she was at and what I should talk about.

    Sometime I'll blog about a scary moment when a very aggressive boy was after her in elementary school, of all places! He also was an elementary student! I couldn't believe it! I learned then that it's never too early to begin talking about the realities of some guys' inappropriate intent.

    When your kids know you'll answer any question they have, without shaming them or punishing them, they will feel safe to come to you with anything. My daughter would tell her friends (when they'd visit) "It's okay you can ask my mom anything, she doesn't mind talking about anything."

    It wasn't like that for me growing up. I could never ask my parents about certain topics. So like you, I took the things I wish could have been different about how I was raised, and knew I could change that when I had a child of my own.

    I know you and your husband will make wonderful, loving, and supportive parents one day!


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