Dating is fun, and it's a necessary step in your child's social development. Whether the kids in your community go on “crowd dates” to the movies at 13, couple up for the Junior Prom at 16 or take heavily-chaperoned walks at 18, it's natural that they want to begin to explore the grown-up world of love and romance.
If you have established open, honest communication – and you are very lucky – your kid will come to you with questions and comments about his dating life. But . . . what should you do when your kid is dating someone you don't like? This can be a toughie.
When your child is old enough to date, odds are good that there will be at least one real clinker in the bunch. To a certain extent, you just have to learn to suck it up and trust your kid's judgment. People, even people to whom you've given birth, will choose their friends based on what they find appealing in a person, not on what you find appealing in a person.
It is your job to be polite to your kid's friends and to receive them graciously in your home as long as they behave themselves. You don't have to like them. Your child likes them.
Of course, if you know that this person is actually harming your child physically you have not only the right, but the duty, to act. If there is physical abuse, call the police. If the kids go to the same school, alert the authorities so that they can keep a closer eye on the situation. Don't let the abuser into the house and take whatever steps are necessary to keep the two of them apart.
It's important to note that your child may not approve of what you are doing and may resist you. However, you are the parent. If somebody's beating on your kid, it's your job to protect him – regardless of what said kid thinks.
It's far more likely, though, that one of your child's Nearly-Significant Others (NSOs) will just rub you the wrong way. You may think he's not smart enough, or attentive enough, or ambitious enough – and indeed, he may not be. What you have to do here is to butt out. Your child has found something to like in this person; it may be that the NSO doesn't “do” parents, or that he is a diamond in the rough who will respond to a little polish. Don't bad-mouth the NSO. As long as your kid is happy, it's not your business.
Of course, this is different if you are asked a direct question, but even then you can't jump all over the subject like a monkey on a banana. Your kid will probably ask you at least once, “Do you like NSO?” The correct answer here (whether you like NSO or not) is, “I like NSO just fine as long as you like NSO.” Do not say, “No, I don't. I think NSO is a total waste of shoe leather.” If your kid loves NSO this will put you on opposite sides; if your kid is having second thoughts about NSO, he will have to stick it out anyway to prove to you that he can make his own decisions.
Your child may go through dating “phases” that will make you tear your hair out. Your 4.0 cheerleader daughter may be attracted only to goth beat poets, or your son the easygoing skateboarder may spend a year crushing on some demanding pretty-in-pink princess. Well, the Goth and the Princess are just kids, too – imagine how their parents feel, and be kind.
Don't be too kind, though. If your kid thinks you LOOOOOOVE the NSO, then they may be reluctant to confide in you. If your kid really values your opinion (Hah!), he may even stick it out with NSO long after he's lost interest in the relationship. Remember, “I like NSO as long as you like NSO” is our motto here. Remember, too, that dating relationships are often very fluid; if your kid breaks up with his NSO and you greet the news with, “FINALLY! Her hair was greasy, her grammar stank and she was way too short for you!” you are liable to be really embarrassed when they start dating again a week later. It's a sure bet he'll have passed your little character assessment on, too.
Of course, this doesn't mean you're entirely without resources. We once had one of our daughter's NSOs who would not take the hint that it was time to call it a night; Lance started vigorously sharpening all his knives (including his machete) in grim-lipped silence and the boy left quickly. Coincidence? I think not. We've also had several instances where a big brother or sister has drawn an NSO aside and murmured, “If you hurt him, I will find you.” Siblings operate under different rules than parents.
Bottom line: Teach your kid to be a good judge of character, then trust him. Stay humble by remembering a few of your own dating failures and don't visibly freak out if your kid confides some things to you that you don't really want to know (internal freaking out is fine).
Keep the lines of communication open and someday, when your child really does find True Love, you can rejoice right along with him.