This is similar but not identical to When is it safe to start letting our children go into relationships?

My 12-year-old son is precocious in terms of height and puberty, but emotionally he is out of kilter with his physical development, i.e. he is in many ways quite emotionally immature for his age. He has a healthy interest in girls, although he doesn't have much of an idea how to go from fantasy to reality yet. But a female friend of his from school has been calling their play dates "dates." The truth is that when we pick her up and take them to the swimming pool, or whatever, they just yak about stuff, go down the water slide again and again -- to us it looks like a normal play date.

He told me they were "dating", and had the idea I should drive them around, pay for movies and so on, and make myself persona non grata because he thought (realized) people go on "dates" without their parents. So far I've been able to steer through a very narrow navigable channel, but I'd like to establish a dating policy (which I didn't need to do when my other son was this age, because he was slow to mature and a bit socially awkward).

I told him, "It's too soon for 'dating' but 'play dates' are fine; and every day is too often for talking to her on the phone." (He has OCD and tends to want to phone friends compulsively.) But he wants to know when he can 'date' and I don't know what to say. The closest I've been able to come to articulating a dating policy is to laugh a bit and say, If we're driving you guys around, that's a play date, not a date!

What is an effective dating policy for a 12yo boy, in terms of what age he may start, and any constraints he should have for the next few years?

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    This question seems really vague but it doesn't seem like the scenario is going too badly with your current approach.There's something to be said for "dating" when it's still 99.9% innocent re: personal confidence about later more "real" relationships. – Murphy Aug 4 '15 at 15:32

It doesn't sound like the kids are doing anything age-inappropriate, or inappropriate in general. If you don't feel comfortable helping them playact "real dating" (movies, dinners, etc) then don't do it. I'd also advise you not to get hung up on whatever they want to call their time together. From what you've described, it doesn't sound much different --at this point --than when kindergarteners decide they are "boyfriend and girlfriend."

It does sound, however, like this might be a good time to have "the talk" (about sex) if you haven't already, since he's moving quickly towards physical maturity. (This piece of advice is completely independent of his relationship with this particular girl.)

As far as "when can he date," I'd tell him when he can drive himself and his date to the movie, pay for dinner himself, and generally show evidence of being able to handle himself in a responsible manner without a parent. That ties it to specific, relevant milestones rather than an arbitrary number (plus, it reduces your role as either gatekeeper or enabler).


We had a similar question a while back, where I outlined my own personal policy and my values backing that policy. When developing your own policy, you should consider your own values and the results you want to achieve.

I think the key here is find a way to say yes. It isn't a choice between forbidding any relationship at all or permitting any relationship at all. In other words, instead of forbidding the date, require adding more people to the event, put restrictions on being paired off or alone, and encourage him to develop a wide variety of relationships.

I want to caution you against dismissing the relationship as merely play dates. It wasn't too long ago when it wasn't unusual for people to start their own family at age 13 or 14. Industrialization moved that age back, but our bodies don't know that. I've recently noticed myself thinking of college graduates as emotionally immature. I think it takes a conscious effort to realize that teens have adult feelings even if they don't yet have an adult sense of responsibility and self-control.

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