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.

**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.

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

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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 (29)
  • Concerned mom
    So my daughter is soon to 14 in just a few days has been explicit online talked to various guys at school and has ran away she is now dating someone a year older he seems like a good kid comes from a good family but it seems they areMore way too attached and the mom and him want to buy her all these gift the mom saying to me hey I love them together I would do anything anything for them and it just seems a little weird to me for some reason I don't trust her and I think she gives them too much alone time I'm afraid to push back as I'm just getting my daughter back home what can I do
  • Lander5151
    My granddaughter is 16. Met 18 year old boy on line from Peru. He want to come to USA to meet her and stay with us while he is here. They have been face timing for about a year. Is this safe?
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      Thank you for reaching out to Empowering Parents. I can understand your concern and it's valid to question whether or not it's safe. That's not really a question we could give a definitive answer for because we don't the person in question. If you have any concerns about this personMore coming to stay with you, it's OK to say no. You could offer to find an inexpensive motel or other place in your area he could rent if you're not comfortable with him being in your home. Ultimately, this is a judgment call only you can make. We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community and wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.
  • Joe90
    Wow reading these comments has been an eye opener for me. I have a 15yr old daughter, were from the UK. She has never been in a relationship, but has spoken to boys on snapchat whom all 3 were horrid boys, after one thing. However she met a boy recentlyMore at a party, they've been snapping each other and they've met up a couple of times and they have kissed. I feel as a mum I've been getting too involved with the relationship, asking questions, like why isn't he able to see you more, why doesn't he call you, but just texts on snapchat, what things does he say to you, are you his girlfriend. So I think it's myself that has a problem,but reading some of the comments it's actually helping me realise that her not seeing alot of him, and just texting is okay. I fear for her getting hurt after the other boys were just after that one thing. My daughter is also a very closed book, when she used to be very open with me, and I feel I can't handle that and that's why I ask so many questions. It has ended in arguments alot of late. I also do not understanding the stages of dating on snapchat the talking stage, which apparently this is the stage my daughter is at, you talk to only that one person on snap, meet up now gain, but you are not in a relationship. I daid to my daughter, but youve kissed, he has also told his mum about her, which he didn't with the last girl. Then after this stage apparently you have to wait for them to ask you out to be their girlfriend. I just can't fathom this whole new way they date these days. I am so worried she will be hurt by this boy, she seems to really like him.
  • Jj
    What do I do, my 16 yo daughter has been dating her 16yo boyfriend for over a year but the relationship is so clingy, they spend every waking moment together (literally), one goes to the toilet or to get food they are on facetime to the other ect, recently herMore mail started coming through with his surname on, I hate it and want to say something but don't know how to? advice please?? Aswell neither of them have friends or socialise with others.
  • Worried dad
    My daughter has a young man she started seeing last year it became a horrific mess almost caused a divorce we have all been seeing counselors they split up in may but have recently gotten back together. She is in the A-plus program he is barely past special needs weMore see their texts,he keeps asking her to move in with him and even gave her a wedding ring last year after only a month! We thought this was done but found out this new relationship started about a month to six weeks ago. Unfortunately she loves to help others and he has been "trained"from an early age how to play the poor pitiful me card by his mom wich makes this that much harder to deal with its very close to a codependency. How can we convince her this is a disaster in the making?
    • Marité from Chile
      Hey, worried dad. Just wanted to give you some support by saying that I had such a boyfriend when I was 16 years old, and I will tell you that I always knew he was not right for me. At the time I loved him and thought he was theMore sh** but deep down I just didn't have the will power to break it off. She will break up eventually. I wish you the best!
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Thank you for reaching out. I can understand your concern. We hear from many parents who have shared similar stories of not liking their child's boyfriend or girlfriend. There may not be much you can do other than let the relationship run it's course. Most teen relationships aren't really long lived and forbidding the relationship can set up a "Romeo and Juliet" type of romanticized scenario. You can limit the time they spend together and even encourage them to spend tome together at your home, which will allow you to supervise them. Hopefully, once she graduates high school, the relationship will fizzle out on it's own.

      WE appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Take care.

  • Mum at a loss
    My 15 year old son has ADHD too, and he has been in a relationship with a girl and known her for 2 months. He wants to text her all the time on snapchat. I'm afraid his last year at school is going to suffer big time. I have takenMore his phone off him a lot of times as punishment as he has really been pushing the boundaries over the last month, staying out later than I wish. He nearly has a nervous breakdown when I take his phone which is awful to see but it seems it's the only thing he actually cares about anymore. we have drama and stress every day now. Am I pushing back too hard. Should I just leave him to it ? What can I do ? The harder I push the worse it's getting. He seems obsessed the girl and completely addicted to his phone.
  • Desperate mum
    My son is 16 has ADHD and is in a toxic relationship! I need to know how to get him out of it? She has a tracker on his phone, blames him for everything even when everyone else can clearly see she is in the wrong he is the 1More to apologise. He never sees his friends anymore. I've tried talking to him and as soon as she wants him he will go back to her. She is ruining his life and he is now depressed. Please help
  • Struggling with relationships and face time
    My 16 year old son face times with his girlfriend when he's not in school and when he sleeps. I feel it's excessive, unhealthy and intrusive. I feel like we have no privacy in our home, she hears and sees everything, he needs time away from her and needs toMore hang out with his friends. I told him no phone after 10pm. I check at 4am when I get up for work and they are both sleeping. Since he's not complying I feel the phone needs to be taken away. My significant other isn't supportive. Am I being to harsh?
  • Momma Needs Advice
    Help! This teen dating stuff is giving this momma some serious anxiety. My son is 13 but looks like 16 at 5'11" ;-). He is a sweet kid and has his head on straight. When middle school started he had a girlfriend for a couple ofMore months and they hung out in groups, ate lunch together at school and texted. His next crush was a girl from church youth group....same situation and it faded fast after Christmas break. His current girlfriend is 13 but seems to be more mature and neither of them have any problem being together - just the two of them. She goes to another school so that has not helped on trying to set boundaries and what is "enough" time spent together since they can't see each other in school. They will go hang out at a park/restaurant area, go to the movies, and lately she has been dropped off at our house to hang out "watch movies, go for walks, etc." while we are in the home supervising. I will not allow him to go over to her home since I don't feel her parents are as watchful. I guess I am struggling with how much is too much? We want to support all the feelings he is having but it seems to be moving so fast for this age or at least to fast for this momma. I know there is hand holding and kissing and we have talked about importance of being age appropriate but the more time they are wanting to spend time on there now the more stress I am having. She unfortunately does not have any activities outside of school so she has a lot of free time. My son is very active in sports and church youth group and continues to do all those things thank goodness. Thank you for any input!
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Hi, Tammy. Thank you for reaching out. There really is no set amount of time for this sort of thing. It depends on whether or not other expectations are being met and, so some extent, your comfort level. It sounds like you're having them spend time together at your house so you can supervise. That's really a good limit to put in place if you have these types of concerns. How much overall time they spend together really is a judgment call.

      We appreciate you being part of the Empowering Parents community and wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.

  • Teen Friendship
    My daughter was 12 when she met a 11 yo boy at a park around the corner from us. She enjoyed his company but was not physically attracted to him. She know him from daycare and preschool. I know his mother and remember him well. SheMore would look forward to seeing him. One day out of the blue he asked her out. She declined because she only liked him as a friend PLUS didn't understand what going out was or had romance in her life before. Shure, she had crushes, but that was it. He really liked her for about 2 years and stayed friends with her. I could hear her on social media with him, laughing and having pleasant conversations. He was persistent with his interest in her. Eventually, she fell smitten with him at 14and looked forward to hearing from him daily. We invited him out to dinner a few times. I am friends with his mother now as well. It looked like a love match though they were so young. I've heard of kids meeting very young and staying together (though they may go their separate ways a few times) but always reconnecting. She wanted to buy him a Christmas gift. I helped her buy him a nice gold chain that would remind him of her in the future when they go their own ways after high school. He was very happy with the necklace. They got together a few times after that. She noticed he started to get grumpy and distant saying he was "busy". He eventually told her he no longer liked her "That way" after she approached him asking him wh he was because his behavior suddenly changed. She was very disappointed but didnt want to cut ties with him. I am here for her support but I am perplexed too. I was not allowed to have "boyfriends" growing up. There was always a problem with whomever I tried to date, so I didn't want her subject to that treatment from me as far as romance was concerned. My guess is that he actually lost interest after a few years, which is understandable. In 2 years a lot of maturities can occur and interests change. For her giving him the gold necklace was like accepting that she wanted to go out with him though she rejected him romantically prior to this. I am also going to guess he wanted her but after getting her interest it was too much for him to handle. What are your thoughts? In the meantime, they are taking a break to regroup. She wants him to keep the necklace. Maybe in the future, they will reconnect.
  • 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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