The New Rules for Teen Dating

It’s not your parents’ dating anymore


Published:

Photo courtesy of Rawpixel.com/shutterstock.com

This article was updated April 26, 2018, but was originally published Feb. 26, 2014. Read an updated feature story with information on how social media is affecting teen dating here

As prom season approaches, it’s easy to conjure romantic thoughts of dating rituals we experienced long ago. Perhaps the thought of all those sweet young couples slow dancing under paper streamers coaxes a nostalgic sigh or two.

Ah, reality. If you’re the parent of a child who has recently started middle school, get ready for a decidedly new dating scene. Yes, the prom as we knew it still exists, but even its drama pales in comparison to today’s boy-girl relationship issues.

“It’s not your parents’ dating anymore,” concedes Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Health. “We don’t have the vocabulary and we don’t have the experiences to be able to help. We’re learning this at the same time our children are navigating through it.”

What follows is a teen dating primer to help your child — and you — forge the valley between child and young adult.


Dating Starts Earlier

It’s not unusual for sixth-graders to say, “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” Often these relationships develop through texting. These first relationships usually don’t go beyond chatting, posing for pictures later posted on social media and requests to attend coed group outings. Most experts and parents consulted for this article say group “dates” to the mall, movies or even a friend’s house are fine as long as they’re supervised, even if it means just being in the same shopping center.

Ed Parrish, a banker and father of four from Graham, has noticed that his 13-year-old son has started asking his older sister if her friend’s younger sister can join her on visits to the Parrish home. They’ll hang out while their older sisters visit. Sometimes, his son will go to the movies with guy friends and “meet up” with a group of girls from school, Parrish says. He feels comfortable with these early forays because “we’ve given him the talk about the need to respect young ladies and what we expect of him.”

What to watch for: Smartphones and social media can lay traps for preteens and young teens. Parents should establish ground rules for texting members of the opposite sex and explain the importance of avoiding any form of “sexting.” Parents should also monitor their child’s text conversations and follow/friend them on any social media sites where they have accounts. Young teens have especially fragile egos, so negative peer feedback on social media can be especially damaging.


The New “Talking” Phase of Dating

Kids today don’t plunge into dating without first going through the “talking to each other” phase. This means a boy and girl who feel an attraction spend time together, whether alone or in groups, then text and/or Snapchat in-between. A fairly high bar stands between this phase and actual “dating,” wherein one member of the couple — usually the boy — officially asks the other out.

Megan*, a senior at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, says only about 20 percent of these relationships result in an official couple. Jennifer*, a junior at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, notes that while it’s not cool to “talk” to more than one person at a time, some people go from one talking “relationship” to another without actually dating anyone, which tends to explain the relatively low numbers of actual couples. For instance, among Megan’s circle of about seven close girlfriends, only two have boyfriends. The rest are either completely single or talking to someone.

“Maybe among the younger girls it’s more important to have a boyfriend, but as we’ve gotten older, it’s just not as important,” she says.

Parents should try to stay on top of who their child is talking to or dating, and why — especially with younger teens. This is a prime opportunity to find out what they find appropriate and desirable in a romantic partner, says Crystal Reardon, director of counseling for Wake County Public School System. “There is a balance there. You have to respect your children’s feelings but also want to help keep them safe.”

What to watch for: Girls usually don’t want to bring someone they’re just talking to home to their parents, say both Megan and Jennifer, so be prepared for some flak if you insist.

“You never want the guy to think you’re going, ‘Oh, we’re dating, so I want you to meet them,’” Megan says. On the other hand, she adds, “if you’re really dating, at some point you absolutely do want your parents to meet him.”


Events are a Group Experience

Your teen doesn’t have to be dating or talking to anyone to have a date to the prom, winter formal or Sadie Hawkins dance. That’s because most kids go in large groups and are couples in name only. Johnny may still ask Suzy to be his date, but only after the “group” has decided who will go with whom. The group eats dinner together, poses for pictures together and attends the dance together. Of course, kids who already have relationships — and even some still in the talking phase — will go with that special person, but still as part of a group. As Megan puts it: “It’s not, ‘Who’s your date? but, ‘What group are you going with?’”

What to watch for: Officially, it’s OK for kids who aren’t part of a large friend group to go with just a date or with another couple, and it’s OK for kids to go “stag.” Unofficially, there are unwritten rules that your teen knows might discourage him from attending even if he wants to. If that’s the case, the only thing you can do is offer support and perhaps plan a trip or outing for that night.


Hooking Up is Common and Accepted

To college students, hooking up means having casual sex. For high schoolers, it can mean that, too, but usually refers to making out at parties or get-togethers. Kids hook up with people they’ve just met, casual acquaintances and even friends. For most teens, there are no strings attached. Jennifer, when asked if hooking up with a guy meant a girl had a crush on him, says dismissively, “Nope.” And Megan concurs: “It would seem very strange to me that a girl would think there’s something there” after a hookup.

What to watch for: It’s time to have the “values and expectations” talk if you haven’t already. This can mean discussing your family’s views on sex before marriage, as well as frank talk about abstinence, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. Case in point: There’s a myth in teen circles that you can’t get STDs from oral sex, Gurwitch notes. She says as cringe-inducing as this conversation will be, it has to get done. “Try it while you’re driving,” she advises. “There’s something about not sitting next to each other on a couch that makes this easier for both you and your child.”


Love Hurts, Regardless of Your Age

Just because teens are more casual and sophisticated about dating doesn’t mean they don’t still suffer heartbreak. Even 14- and 15-year-olds can fall in love, Reardon says.

“To a child or teenager who is experiencing this, it is very real and very important,” she says. Broken hearts after a breakup are real, too, and just as with adults, there’s no timetable for recovery.

What to watch for: If your teen experiences signs of depression weeks after a breakup, appears to be arguing or behaving differently with their boyfriend/girlfriend, withdraws from other friends or shows signs of physical abuse such as bruises or scratches, check with your doctor, school counselor or a community psychologist right away, advise both Gurwitch and Reardon.

The new rules for teen dating may be daunting — and surprising — but they are very real and, whether today’s parents like it or not, guide many teen relationships. Plug in, watch for signs and remember that regardless of how the rules change, love evokes the same positive and negative emotions it always has, regardless of what decade it is.


* In some cases, names were changed to protect identities.

Originally published Feb. 26, 2014. Updated April 26, 2018.

Suzanne M. Wood is a Raleigh-based freelance writer and mother of three.

 

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PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Telephone: 919-962-7529

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

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Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

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Chip, chip, hooray! The first Zambrero in the Southeast is opening on January 24 with zingy, zesty activities! Bodacious Burritos and Bowls: $5 burritos and bowls all day Delicious Drawing: A...

Cost: Free

Where:
1 Glenwood Ave
#105
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: (919) 863-2561
Website »

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Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

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Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

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Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Take a hike after dark and enjoy the sights and sounds of a quiet night along the American Tobacco Trail. We will walk to the Beaver Creek bridge and back (about one mile total). Free for ages 4...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

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Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Join the Museum and the Raleigh Astronomy Club to help you see the big picture — of the Universe! From comet crafts to solar observing, lectures to rocket launches, space enthusiasts of all ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Tricky Tracks Saturday, January 25 10-11 a.m. Come dressed for the weather so you can roam the park learning the fine art of “tracking”.   Make a cast of an animal...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

RALEIGH (Jan. 16, 2020) – The North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools will host its first school fair during National School Choice Week on Saturday, Jan. 25. The fair will take...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: NC Association of Public Charter Schools
Telephone: 336-669-9996
Contact Name: Rhonda Dillingham
Website »

More information

Join the statewide kickoff to Black History Month at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society since 2015, the 19th...

Cost: 0

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 East Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

Winter days find many animals curled up in their dens. They sleep warmly, awakening in spring ready to enjoy the renewed Earth. Discover how animals deal with cold weather and which ones hibernate...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for all family members,& childre

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Join us in Arendelle for Frozen-inspired STEAM activities for the whole family! Included in the ticket cost is dinner and dessert for the whole family, make your own sock Olaf and Frozen bouncy...

Cost: $35 per family

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Website »

More information

AML Wrestling presents our 5th Anniversary Celebration! WHEN: Saturday, January 25th, 2020WHERE: Winston-Salem Fairgrounds in theHome & Garden Building 408 27th Street NW/Gate #9 Winston-Salem, NC...

Cost: $5

Where:
Winston-Salem Fairgrounds
408 27th Street NW/Gate #9
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Sponsor: AML Wrestling
Telephone: 336-831-0646
Contact Name: Tracy Myers
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.