When you have a teen, it can be tough to know when the right time for them to start dating is. According to , the number of teens who report dating has been steadily declining since 2001, with many kids saying they “hook up” but don’t date. This trend is one of the many reasons that it is important to start discussing dating with your kids.

Discussing relationships and dating with your teen or tween can be uncomfortable for both you and your kids alike. But, teaching your teen how to establish boundaries, how to communicate openly, and communicating what’s acceptable while dating will help them to better grasp what healthy relationships entail and how to ask for help when something doesn’t feel right. Although it can be very awkward to have the dating talk, parents should not be scared or worried about their kids starting to date.

Consider the Child’s Age suggests that kids are ready to “go out” in middle school, but are usually ready to start dating around 16, although technically there is no “right” age. It all depends as well on your teens maturity level. Some good ways to measure your teen’s maturity is by their willingness to participate in household chores, treating others with respect, getting good grades and theie ability to manage emotions.

Make sure to talk with your child and discuss how you’ll be deciding whether or not they can date. Remember, no one knows your kids better than you. So only you and your spouse can decide when is the best time to let them have a relationship. If you feel that they are not mature enough to start dating or even “hanging out” with someone they like, talk to them about why you feel this way.

Discuss Boundaries and Limitations

In the age of cell phones and computers, teens are reachable 24/7. The accessibility has its advantages but advocates say it has opened a portal that did not exist in young love years ago. This allows teens, especially girls, to be controlled through text messages and calls often times keeping them up all night long. To avoid this, talk to your teen about permissible times to use cell phones and implement protocol for talking on the phone and texting with a boyfriend or girlfriend. If you are concerned about the amount of time your child is spending on the phone, some phone companies, like Verizon , can help you monitor and set limits on the amount of text messages or calls being made to and from your child’s phone.

There is a darker side to dating that includes teens who spend too much time with a partner. You’ll want to set a limit on how much time your teen spends with their boy/girlfriend and make sure that if they spend time at each other’s houses, they aren’t left unattended or behind closed doors. Encourage them to spend time together with your family doing activities or coming over for dinner. This will enable you to see them interact with each other and get to know the boyfriend/girlfriend.

If they don’t agree with or understand the rules or boundaries of a healthy relationship, they may not be ready to date. While we can’t hold our children’s hands forever and make sure that nothing bad happens to them, it is important that we make sure they know how to be treated respectfully.

Be Available to Talk

If you think that talking to your kids about dating and sex is uncomfortable for you, it’s even more uncomfortable for them. More than 90% of teens said that it would be easier for them to avoid sexual activity if they were able to have more open conversations with their parents, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy .Because of this staggering statistic it’s most important that parents are available at any time to discuss this tough topics with their kids.

Even more important is the fact that parents should never judge or over react after learning something that might not be the best of situations. Remember that you too were young and made mistakes.

Make sure to get the message across to your teen that if something doesn’t seem right in their relationship, whatever the matter is, they should discuss the issue with you. Depending on each situation you can help guide them to an appropriate solution. I can’t stress enough how important open communication is when it comes to your teen and dating.

For more information on teens and healthy dating, visit .

by Angela Ardolino of Tampa Bay Parenting,