How serious is too serious when it comes to teen relationships? I’ve had to ask myself this question a few times over the past few years. Truth be told, it makes me more than a little uncomfortable when my kids want to spend all of their waking moments with their current “like interest” (I have never been able to use the term “love interest” when referring to the other kids my kids were dating). After talking with hundreds of other parents of teens as an Empowering Parents parent coach, I know I’m in good company. Many parents struggle with knowing what limits to set with how much time they should allow their child to spend with their boyfriend/girlfriend and what they can do if they think their child is in a relationship that’s too serious.

My son started “dating” when he was 13. Dating at this age meant eating lunch together at school, going to the community dances, and posting on Facebook that you’re “in a relationship.” He and his “girlfriend” would buy each other red carnations during the Valentine’s Day fundraiser at school. At this point, I wasn’t worried. Still, by the time he was 15, his relationships were lasting longer and he seemed to be getting more serious. How did I know? He started to buy “serious” gifts, like roses and heartshaped lockets. He started asking me to take him to the mall so he could buy a one month anniversary gift. While part of me found it to be a sweet gesture, another part of me worried he was getting too serious at his age.  Being that he is my firstborn, I was at a loss as to what, if anything, I should do. I thought about forbidding him from dating, but knew it was probably a little late for that. Besides, “forbidding” a child from doing anything often doesn’t result in compliance; more often results in secretive, rebellious behavior. The “wait, watch and see” approach is the one I opted for in the end.

Related content: “I Don’t Like My Teen’s Girlfriend — What Should I Do?”

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I did implement some limits as to where, when and how long he and his girlfriend-of-the-moment could spend time together. I opted for situations where there was going to be supervision: our house when I was home, the girlfriend’s house when a parent was going to be home, chaperoned dances and other public outings. How much time depended upon whether or not other expectations were being met, such as not being behind with household responsibilities or work in school. If there was missing schoolwork or chores were starting to suffer, I limited the time they would get to spend with each other until these responsibilities were fulfilled consistently once again.

Related: Does your child have toxic friends? 6 ways to deal with “the wrong crowd.”

As for allowing my son to buy gifts for what I considered to be “temporary” relationships, I let him buy what he wanted, as long as he had the money for it. There were discussions around a gift being a gift, with no strings attached; buying something for someone you really like and care about didn’t mean they would like or care about you more, nor did it mean they would “owe” you anything in return. A couple of times he got his feelings hurt when he bought an expensive gift ($30 dollar necklace) for a one-month or six-month anniversary and then was broken up with shortly after. I offered him empathy and a listening ear. Even though I wanted to take the pain away, solace was all I could really offer him.  As hard as it was to see him sad and heartbroken, I knew he was learning an important life lesson, and skills for dealing with future heartache. Unfortunately, none of us are immune from that.

Adolescent relationships, with their giddy, head-over-heels bliss and forlorn heartache, help us to learn how to deal with the ups and downs that are an inherent part of any relationship. As parents, we recognize the fleeting quality of an adolescent relationship and know that as much as our child tries to convince us he/she is “in love,” chances are the relationship isn’t going to last more than a few months at most.  Finding a balance between supervising activities, while still allowing for a sort of emotional exploration, is a good approach to dealing with adolescent dating.

So, how serious is too serious? I guess that depends upon your perspective and your personal belief system. Ultimately, you decide what you are and are not comfortable with as far your son or daughter dating.

Related content: Parenting Teens: Parental Authority vs. Peer Pressure

**EDITOR’S NOTE**  This article is intended to address teen dating relationships in general.  If you are concerned that your son or daughter may be involved in a relationship that is abusive or violent, we encourage you to contact your local domestic violence project, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(799-7233), to find out your options to help your child to stay safe.


Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2010. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

Comments (15)
  • Mommabear
    My 14 year old daughter just got out of a hard core relationship with his boyfriend. They had been dating for 8 months. They had gotten promise rings for each other. Before those promise rings rings where bought we had sat them down and asked them what does a promiseMore ring mean. Well they told us and then we purchased them. Everything. Was going great until the last week of school they had people coming between them trying to break them up. Well on the last day of school my daughter saw his Snapchat and saw that he had been talking to his ex (the one that cheated on him) since March. He was saying I love you and miss you. So she completely ended the relationship. I know my daughter did wrong in The relationship as well by letting a friend come in between them. She will not admitted to hurting and I feel at a loss here. This boy had went everywhere with us never missed a game of hers came to family get togethers. We treated this boys as family. I just need help on how to get my daughter to talk to him again with out lashing out? I know she still loves him because she is not sleeping at night. I just don’t know what to do anymore.
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      I can understand your distress. It can be difficult to watch your teen struggle with relationships and break ups. You can let your daughter know that you are there to help and support her if she needs it. I would take a step back from getting too involved in what'sMore going on between them, though. Teen relationships don't tend to last for very long. From what you've shared, it sounds like your daughter has good boundaries and is able to stand up for herself. If she doesn't want to talk to this boy again, I would respect her limits and would not try to force the issue.
  • Ady_0908
    My 15 year old daughter is dating this boy from her church group. Both of them are against sex until marriage, and both think that the only point in dating someone is if you see a possible future where you marry them. Because me and my husband as well asMore his parents know each of their views, they are allowed to be behind closed doors together. We walk in sometimes randomly to bring them snacks and check on them and we have never caught them doing anything except cuddling watching a movie. Recently they passed their 2 year anniversary (which I only count as about 6 months) and I told my daughter that it was weird that his parents don’t have her number and I don’t have his number. She disagreed and said it would be strange for them to ask for her number unless she offers it. Is it really strange for me to ask him for his number without him offering it to me first?
  • Christian

    I'm at a bit of a loss. My 14 year old is a super sharp girl. She's been the top of her class and is very talented and driven. She's also intensely private and personal and quiet. She's been in a relationship for going on a year now and I'm alarmed at how intense they are. I finally (with her permission) read through their texts and it's shaken me. They're talking of marriage. The messages were coy but I think they've engaged in oral sex and dry humping. He keeps asking her to video chat naked. He takes no for an answer just fine, but then asks again later. The crazy thing is we thought that they'd been supervised. These things are going on when his parent runs to the store for an errand or (I think) under a picnic blanket. They talk of sneaking out in the night or into each other's house to "sleep together."

    Help!? What to do? What are proper limits for this age? I think step one is we can't let them be alone without someone being able to see them. I've had multiple conversations about limits with her, but I'm wondering if I need to talk to his parents or him? Any other ideas?

  • Brandi
    My 14yr son & his girlfriend have started exploring sexually. I noticed 2 hickies on his kneck. There's been no intercourse or any touching in the the lower region for neither one of them. We've once again had "The Talk",and he knows her parents are being contacted also. How doMore I discipline my son for this? Please help!
  • Dr.S
    My daughter is 2 months shy of 16. Over the summer she started dating a 17 year old boy. He's a good kid - a swimmer with good grades who works as a camp counsellor and life guard and plans on being a nurse. I caught them lying to meMore about going to the movies when they really went to a parking lot. I interrupted them - and it was not what I thought. They actually were watching a movie on a laptop in the parking lot. I saw some text messages between them though and there has been some pre-sexual activity. I get the sense of 'dry humping' and maybe some intimate touching. I know this is normal but I am nonetheless disturbed. We have talked frankly and she says she is not ready for sex, and is not having any - and that the BF has been respectful about boundaries. All that is good but Dad here is having a heart attack. My wife is involved and is just way calmer about the whole thing. Not sure what to do.
  • Concerned
    I have a 16 year old son who is a straight a student his whole life great at sports and has 2 jobs so he has his head on straight has his goals mapeed out. When he was 14 he met a girl at a track meet she lived inMore a different town (50 miles away) so at 1st I was like this is perfect they can just text . Soon. They were asking to see each other so her mom and I would meet half way and that worked for a while until her parents stopped being on time to pick her up or saying if you cone get her we will pick her up and then not showing up until 2 hours after the agreed upon time. They my son went to thier house and they had a party for her dad's friends and there was alcohol and pot being smoked and edibles. We are very anti drugs and when my son came home and told me what happened i was livid to say the least. After deliberating he decided to break up with her when school was out because he had 3 jobs this summer plus football practice and he thought it was not fair to her because he was not going to have time. He then got a girl that lived closer and they were not very into each other they had nothing in common and when school stared the 1st game was at the 1st girlfriend school and the taxing started again. Now he wantsaid to date her again and my husband and I are like no . We do not want him at there house at all and I am not going good to let him drive 90 miles to see her and I am not willing to drive all over again. I am at my wits end . He is saying things like when I turn 18 I am never coming back . He does not unsteady that I am trying to keep him out of bad situations for his own good any advise? Should I let them date against my better judgement?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport


      What a tough situation to be in as a

      parent. I wish I could give you a definite yes or no answer to your question.

      That’s a decision only you can make. There are a few things you might consider

      before making that decision, though. First, it’s been my experience that when

      parents “forbid” their child from seeing someone, it tends to make their child

      want to see this person all the more. Another thing to keep in mind is that relationships

      at this age rarely are long lived. If they do get back together, it may not

      last long. You can also put limits around things like how much time he can

      spend at her house, how much driving you’re willing to do or whether or not he

      can use the car to drive to her house. Your son sounds like a responsible young

      man. He does well in school, is involved in sports, and, most importantly, he

      told you about what happened at the party when he could have kept that information to himself. All of that

      points to him being able to make pretty decent decisions. I know this is a hard choice. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.

  • Rosa78
    My 15 year old daughter couldn't wait to date. Now she's obsessed with her first beau. She doesn't do anything else but come home from school, eat and video chat with a guy she goes to school with. Shes given up on piano- hasn't practiced in weeks. She'sMore not making time for herself and I don't want her to be one of those people whose life revolves around someone else. I try to give her advice, but she says I'm making her insecure. How can I strike a balance?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport


      I understand where you’re coming from. It can be worrisome to

      see these types of behavior changes. I can hear your concern around what this

      may mean for future relationships. It may help to know that as frustrating as

      her behavior is, it is normal. This is all new to her and she hasn’t yet

      developed relationship parameters; best way for her to figure out what her

      limits and boundaries are within a relationship is by having a relationship. I

      know it can be hard to just stand back and let her make these choices. If she’s

      open to having conversations about what’s going on, then I would continue to

      talk to her about what you’re observing. I would refrain from offering

      unsolicited advice, though. Instead, ask her if she would like to hear your

      thoughts on the matter. If she doesn’t seem open to conversations right now,

      let her know you love her and are there for her whenever she needs to talk. Hang

      in there. Things will get better.

  • JW66

    At least everyone here are talking about underage teenagers. My 18-year-old daughter only started dating a couple months ago, and I'm feeling really helpless. Would LOVE advice! 

    She's recently found this 23-year-old guy who is telling her that in a few months he'd like her to move in with him. I don't think he knows that we WERE planning to move across the country in the next 2 years! My husband is severely ill. Neither one of them have shown their "ill" sides to each other; then again, they both seem immature for their ages. This guy has schizophrenia, but lives with roommates (not a group home). My daughter has bipolar. I would assume he understand what she's going through, but apparently he drinks, too! In fact, he got my daughter DRUNK this past weekend! What could I do other than voice my concern? I did tell her that we could not afford to get her out of jail if she gets arrested. Problem is, she's 18, so I don't know what to do.

    If we weren't in this shape, I'd probably let her go, let her explore and see if she comes back home. But we aren't in a place to be able to do this. So she literally is standing in the way of our moving. We are desperately trying to come up with the money to get my husband home. We were planning on selling everything we have just to do that! Our life savings has already been used up on her illness. And frustratingly, I was relying on her help in taking care of him. This guy she's interested in lives out of town with no car. (If she decides to go with him, I'm not going to offer her a car. If she makes this poor decision, I'm not going to enable her.)

    I've given thought to fighting for guardianship, but that would pretty much just prevent her from getting married, Other than that, there's nothing I know of that I can really do now, except offer this advice: If you've been reluctant to let your 15 or 16 year old date, let her. This gives you time to weigh-in on their strengths and weaknesses, so by the time their "of age" they have a better sense of this. Wish me luck, and if you have any advice, PLEASE feel to let me know.

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      I’m so sorry to hear about the challenges you are facing

      with both your daughter and your husband’s illness.I’m glad that you are here reaching out for

      support.One of the things we often talk

      about when it comes to parenting an adult child is that your role changes from

      managing their life to focusing more on yourself and your own boundaries.It sounds like you have already started doing

      that by letting her know what response she can expect from you if she makes

      certain choices.I also recognize how

      much you are depending on your daughter when it comes to caring for your

      husband.One option for you might be

      contacting the http://www.211.org/ at 1-800-273-6222

      for information on services available in your community, such as home health

      care, respite services and support groups. I recognize how difficult this must be for

      you, and I wish you and your family all the best as you continue to move

      forward.Take care.

  • realdad

    My 13 year old daughter thinks I am too protective since I want to meet the guy she wants to go to the movies with. He is from another high school, don't know how old he is, she's never met him except via text through a friend at school. 

    Her mother (my ex) thinks I am thinking the worst. I think I am thinking the probabilities. Anyway, my daughter claims she hates me for wanting to meet him. She says I'll embarrass her, but I just don't feel comfortable with the situation or the precedent it sets. 

    I really don't think they should be in the movie together without a chaperone, even though her girlfriend is there. If its this bad now......

    I was 13 once too you know!

    • Dadof14yoG
      Well you're not too overprotective. It is normal to meet and insist on chaperoning or ensuring she is on a Group date. Her feelings are normal but unfair. She wants to do what she pleases and have free reign over her life. Sounds great. The problem is at 13 yourMore decision making is not good at all. She can be upset all she wants but set rules and boundaries and she will get it. Letting her do as she pleases ends with teenage pregnancy, drug abuse etc.
  • win
    bamagal68 Just accept her since they are really serious about their relationship.If you know they are having sex,just give your son some briefing on what he will be facing if she gets pregnant.Make sure he is aware of it.Bring her to your house.Be open minded and let them interact freely.IfMore you stop him,it will get even worst because teenagers always has the mentality to try new things.If he is failing,send him to a technical institute and let him learn skills and assist him to find a job.I hope this helps out.God bless you.
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