Review Feature

Surviving your daughter's date with destiny

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I'm worried. My 11-year-old daughter will soon want to start dating. And with my luck, she'll probably want to date boys.

Obviously, it's high time I started preparing for this frightening rite of passage. That's why I've composed this foolproof, multiple-choice date-screening test, which will be handed to any adolescent male who darkens my doorstep.

Only those who consistently choose answers "a" or "b" will not be strangled on the spot.

1. I always like to go into my date's home prior to our first outing because it provides me with an opportunity to ...

a) show her mother and father the respect they so richly deserve.

b) demonstrate that I am a caring and sensible young man who can be trusted with their daughter.

c) case the joint.

2. Although my given name is William, I am known to my friends and classmates as ...

a) Billy.

b) Spanky.

c) "That Guy with the Monster Herpes Sore."

3. The best way to impress a girl on a first date is to bring her ...

a) roses.

b) a box of chocolates.

c) something nice from the Victoria's Secret catalog.

4. My idea of a fun place to take a date is ...

a) the public library.

b) an amusement park.

c) Tijuana's annual "Slurp-Till-You-Urp Tequila Festival."

5. At the end of a first date, I believe it is fitting and proper to offer the girl ...

a) a firm handshake.

b) a kiss on the cheek.

c) a hickey the size and hue of a 12-pound eggplant.

6. My driver's license is ...

a) a source of great personal pride, representing a privilege and responsibility I do not take lightly.

b) revoked.

c) forged.

7. The most inspirational and spiritually rewarding motion picture I've ever seen is ...

a) "Gandhi."

b) "It's a Wonderful Life."

c) "I Dismember Mama."

8. To date, my greatest personal achievement has been ...

a) being named president of the local 4-H club.

b) my 3.4 grade point average.

c) nearly out-running 11 Highway patrol cars and surviving the ensuing shoot-out.

9. The only true "safe sex" is ...

a) no sex.

b) no sex until marriage.

c) sex which doesn't involve heavy-duty electrical- or gasoline-powered equipment.

10. When my date's parents tell me she must be home by 10 o'clock, I bring her home ...

a) at 10 o'clock.

b) at midnight.

c) as soon as my ransom demands are met.

How to encourage responsible teen dating

This parenting hurdle takes particular patience and understanding. You'll find a sense of humor a valuable asset.

1. Broach the subject of dating early on, perhaps during your child's junior high school years, or even sooner.

2. Set down some basic rules, including what you consider a proper dating age for both your teen and the teen's dates. Also discuss expectations about group or single dating, curfews and appropriate destinations. For example, you might feel that only group dating is appropriate until age 16 or that teens should not leave your town or city on their dates.

3. Put all of your rules and expectations in an informal written document that you share with your teen. As your teen matures, bring it out and make changes if appropriate.

4. Talk with your teen about issues of sex and morality. In addition to discussing your moral views, talk about AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and emotional issues related to sex critical issues for teens. If you have trouble communicating about these issues with your teen or if you feel that your child is experiencing problems that are too large for you to handle, get help from a counselor, clergy member or medical professional.

5. Explain that if your teen winds up in a difficult situation, you are willing and available to pick him or her up whenever or wherever that might be, no questions asked.

6. Tell your teen where in the house to find some extra cash in case he or she is going out and doesn't have money available. Your teen should always carry enough cash to take a cab home in case of emergency.

7. Insist that your teen's date come into the house upon arrival for an introduction. Small talk and friendly questions are fine this is not the best time for interviews, warnings or giving the third degree.

8. Make yourself available after the date to talk if your child wants to. Show your interest, but avoid prying. If you decide not to wait up that night, be sure to let your child know beforehand that you'll be available to chat in the morning.

9. Keep your ears, eyes and mind as open as possible. A parent's intuition will often spot the first signs of trouble, whether that means alcohol, drugs, an abusive relationship, a significant age difference, or anything else that worries you.

Tips:If your teen doesn't have a cellular phone, give him or her change for a pay phone in case of emergency. Make sure the teen has a phone number for reaching you or a trusted friend.

Warnings: Consider counseling if you feel a dating situation has gotten out of hand and you can't effectively communicate with your teen about it.

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