Are Teen Group Dates Better?
By CWK Network Producer
“I like [group dates] ‘cause you can have fun with all your friends – and, like, on one-on- one dates, you’re always self-conscious.”
— Nicole, 16 years old
Prom season is upon us, perhaps the ultimate teen dating experience. Yet, beyond the pomp and circumstance of prom limos, tuxedoes and fancy dresses, lots of teens say they don’t date. Instead, they’re going out in large groups.
Teens like Richard and Holly, when they go on a date, will also invite a few of their closest friends along. “When you’re on a group date, it’s just more fun,” says Holly, “I think that there’s more variety of things to do when you go out.”
It’s fun, but there’s another reason for the popularity of group dating: kids feel “safer.”
As Nancy McGarrah, a licensed psychologist explains, “they are thinking about safety not in necessarily the same way parents are thinking about safety, but they are thinking about rejection.”
“Like [during a] one-on-one date, you’re like, ‘God, what if I say this? Is something bad going to happen?’” laughs 17-year-old Alison.
But while kids take comfort in their emotional security, experts say parents should still be concerned about their physical safety. More kids, they say, can mean more peer pressure.
“Kids in groups get into just as much trouble,” says McGarrah. “You still need to be aware that, you know, there’s a lot of inappropriate sexual activity that kids will get into; there’s a lot of drugs and alcohol problems that kids will get into, smoking activity – things that parents are not going to want their teens doing.”
So, she says, when sending your teen out on a group date, follow the same advice you would if they were going on an individual date.
“You want to know who the people are,” says McGarrah. “It’s really helpful for the parents to have a network where they can be in touch with each other – and know that we’re all kind of on the same plane, thinking the same way about what are appropriate activities, making sure you check in, kids calling in at certain times, giving curfews – those things still apply.”
And if your teen does get into an uncomfortable situation, says McGarrah, “a lot of parents will say, ‘I’ll give you a code word and if you ever call me and say this code word – you know, Minnesota, whatever- we’ll come get you and we won’t ever ask you any questions about why.’ And that gives kids a safety net.”
What Parents Need to Know
When it comes to relationships, parents are a child’s first role model. Experts agree, your teen is watching and paying attention. Be a good relationship role model: Show respect, listen, be attentive and fight fair.
Parents need to be very open with their kids and talk about relationships and sexuality – as well as ways of keeping themselves safe. Sharing factual information with and giving good moral guidance to your teenager is a vitally important part of helping your teen understand herself or himself. “Above all, it is critical that parents be truthful, honest, and available to their children,” says Charles R. Wibbelsman, M.D., FAAP, Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence.
Though not always an easy and comfortable conversation, parents need to talk with teens about sex and “hooking up” — a common term that usually defines a no-commitment, physical encounter with a stranger or acquaintance. Hooking up can range from just a make-out session all the way to sex. Talk with your teens about the difference between sex and dating. Dating is a time when two people are getting to know each other.
To help keep the channels of communication open when it comes to kids and dating, WebMD suggests these strategies for parents:
- Know what your kids are doing — who they’re emailing, who are their Facebook friends, and who they are hanging out with.
- Analyze sex in the media: When you watch TV or movies together, use any sexual messages you see as a jumping-off point to start a conversation about healthy relationships and sex.
- Be curious: When your kids get home from a night out, ask questions: “How was the party? What did you do?” If you’re not getting straight answers, then talk with them about trust, their actions, and the consequences.
- Avoid accusing your teens of wrongdoing. Instead of asking, “Are you hooking up?” say, “I’m concerned that you might be sexually active without being in a relationship.”