Many parents fearfully await their teen showing interest in dating, worrying about everything from broken hearts to sexually transmitted diseases. A recent study in the American Sociological Review states that teens who date are more likely to drink alcohol (due to added opportunities for peer pressure and bad examples from their partner’s friends.) But don’t revoke their dating privileges just yet.

Forming romantic attachments is an important part of growing up. Dating during adolescence helps teen discover what qualities they want in a romantic partner, learn appropriate behavior in a dating or committed relationship, and learn important lessons about trust and consequences.

This doesn’t mean you have to load your fourteen-year-old daughter into her boyfriend’s car and wave good-bye. You are the one who will decide appropriate limits to set on your teen’s dating. Depending on their age, how much you trust them, how much you trust their boyfriend or girlfriend, and your own values, that can range anywhere from chaperoned dinner dates to letting them spend the night together.

Of course, there are some circumstances where you need to end the relationship, even if your teen protests:

  • Any sign of dating violence is an indication that your teen should stop seeing this person. Immediately. Our post on dating violence details what to look for.
  • If your teen is under 16, and their partner is older than them, any sexual activity between them may fall under the umbrella of statutory rape. You may feel the relationship is appropriate, but your teen’s older boyfriend or girlfriend is risking severe legal penalties.
  • Any partner who has an alcohol or drug addiction should not be dating your teen. Once they get help, they may be able to have a valuable relationship, but they need to deal with their addiction first.

So how do parents respond to this increased drinking risk? Well, the best way to know if your teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend is partaking in activities you don’t approve of, or has friends you don’t approve of, is to get to know them. Invite them to dinner. Go to a movie together, and chat in the car. Take them to an amusement park.

They’re unlikely to open up about their drinking or drug behavior directly, but you will get a better feel for who they are. If your teen balks at bringing their boyfriend or girlfriend to family functions, explain that you care about them, and need to meet the people they care about.

You may be pleasantly surprised. You may not. Trust your gut. If you don’t think your teen’s partner is right for them, calmly express your concerns to your teen. They may brush them off, but those concerns might echo in their head when the relationship is having issues.

The best way to ensure your teen doesn’t drink or use drugs due to pressure from their partner’s friends, or anybody else, is to talk to them early about why you don’t want them to. Explain your concerns. Is there a history of alcoholism or substance abuse in the family? Are you worried they might do something they will regret? Have you watched someone struggle with addiction? Do they know that people can slip sedatives into alcoholic drinks and take advantage of them while they’re “out”? Discuss your values, what you expect from them, and why it’s important. Talk about peer pressure and how to resist it. There are to assist you with what to say. A great place to start is the Partnership for Drug Free America.