Helping Your Teen Overcome Anxiety About Dating

While many of us would just as soon not have our teen date, thank you very much, we know that overcoming fear and apprehension about such is an important developmental hurdle. This entry, my 75th to date, reviews seven tips for you to share with your teen and four tips for you.

Tips for you to share with your teen:

Tip #1: Normalize your teen’s anxiety. Many teens think that other people find this to be much easier than they do; moreover, the sexes are notorious for thinking that the other sex doesn’t freak out as much about this stuff. But you and I know that most people can relate to the sense of dread and anxiety that most experience when first starting to date (e.g., dialing six digits of your crush’s phone number and hanging up, about 25 or so times, because you couldn’t dial that fateful seventh number). Tell your stories, especially if they are funny, as in comedy = pain + time. (Click on the following link for an example of a funny story I tell about my own dating experiences in order to help nervous teens: Using Our Screw Ups To Help Our Kids)

Tip #2: Teach the art of the flirt. That is, give your teen some tips on how to engage in risk-free explorations of the other person’s interest. There are so many ways to do this, and I’m sure you have your own strategies. But, here are some:

√ Create a pretense to call the person (e.g., information about an upcoming test, confirmation of the location of an upcoming event) and see if the person seems happy to be talking on the phone. If your teen is open to it, offer a role play.

√ Friend the person on Facebook (or follow on Twitter, or engage on Tumblr, etc) and see how receptive he/she is to the chit-chat. A nice opening line can be a compliment.

√Ask the person if he or she would like to share some non-dating experience such as lunch at school or studying at the library. Or your teen could offer that he or she has no taste in clothes and could the other person–whom your teen offers has amazing taste–meet him or her at the mall and help his or her sorry self pick out a piece of clothing or two. The same strategy could be employed in picking out a piece of sports equipment.

Tip #3: Teach your kid that you can’t have fun without diving in. Said more like a psychologist: the only effective way to deal with developmentally appropriate fears is to confront them and that avoiding them only makes them stronger. I elaborate on this theme in this blog entry: My Child Gets Afraid A Lot. what Can I Do? And, make sure your teen understands that electronic asks (e.g., texts, Facebooking) are wimpy and often reflect poorly on the asker.

Tip #4: Teach your child that a “no” ain’t no thing. Actually, when I’m working with a teen or adult who is afraid of the ask, I’ll say something like “Bryon, I really hope that Morgan says ‘yes’ when you ask her out. But, for the sake of our work, it’d be better if she, and the next bunch of girls you ask out, would all say ‘no’ because this would increase the chance that you’d figure out that it ‘ain’t no thing’ to get rejected as there are a nearly limitless supply of girls lined up right behind those guys.”

Tip #5: Encourage your child to not try to be anyone other than who he or she is. I suggest to teens that getting someone to like them based on false information is a complete waste of everyone’s time and effort and will very rarely work out (even a broken clock is right twice a day, but the odds of success are very low).

Tip #6: Give your child some tips for the date itself. If your child gets a “yes” response, he or she can become even more freaked out. But, there are lots of ways to create a less stressful date. First, going in a group can cut down on stress. Next, going to an event or movie requires less interaction, and so can be less intimidating (a strategy I often employed when first dating female creatures). It can also be helpful for your teen to prepare a list of conversation starters (e.g., top five favorite movies, recording artists, vacations experienced, things to spend money on in the case of winning the Powerball, places to visit in the world).

Tip #7: Teach some tips for reassuring and impressing the other teen’s parent-lunatics. The stuff that impresses you, would probably impress them. And, if those parents are involved in any administrative aspects of the date, it’s good for someone from your camp to confirm that their camp is situated well for that role (see the blog entry I mentioned below on monitoring).

Four additional tips for you:

Tip #1: Make sure your teen’s sex education is up-to-date. For example, I really like the book Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs by family practitioner and friend Jill Grimes, M.D. This book does does a super job of educating teens about STDs. Actually, I wish every teen (and adult) would read Chapter One, on herpes (I made sure my teens did as soon as I read it).

Tip #2: Make sure your teen is sufficiently monitored. This blog entry elaborates on what that means: Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them.

Tip #3: Let your teen know that you’re interested in discussing any aspect of any of this but take “no” for an answer and don’t pry (after you’ve established that the monitoring is sufficient that is).

Tip #4: When your teen is interested in talking, try to drop what you’re doing to listen. Teens are like windows that are only intermittently open, and usually not on your schedule. So, when they are open, try to take advantage; those interactions will likely end up mattering more to you, when you are later reflecting back on the meaning of your life, than whatever it was you were doing when your teen approached you.

Tip #5: If your teen’s anxiety about all of this proves to be overwhelming, seek out a mental health professional who can offer him or her cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is usually the indicated psychotherapy for overcoming this problem. For a list of potential treatment providers, click here.

In closing let me offer that one major topic that I’m not taking on here, but will subsequently address, is how to handle situations in which your teen has a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered orientation or if he or she is unsure about all of that. Stay tuned.

By the way, I asked my 15 year old son Gannon to read this entry for edits. Besides asking, “why do we need to be monitored?!” and laughing again at the humiliation I experienced on my first date (referenced in the link above), he said, and this is as good as it gets: “I think it’s good.”

Good luck!

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