Raising tweens and teens is hard. From weathering the constant refrain of “there’s nothing to eat” to figuring out how to parent when your kid gets ghosted by a friend, this stage is tricky — especially when your teen starts dating. But TikTok mom Gwenna Laithland (@mommacusses) is sharing two simple rules she feels make the teen dating years a little less daunting. Enter the rules of 12.
What are the two rules of 12 for dating teens? First rule: Date someone no more than 12 months younger or older. Second rule: Wait 12 weeks before considering physical intimacy. According to Laithland, these core guidelines offer parents a way to help protect their teen without “going overboard.”
And, really, these rules are so simple that they shouldn’t seem that constricting to teens, although Laithland acknowledges that the rules may not work for all families. If the system sounds like it could work for yours, the TikToker lays it out in the most useful and Gwenna way possible.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that your teen’s current perception of your parenting decisions isn’t necessarily right — it’s just how they feel in that moment. Still, it doesn’t hurt to reevaluate your rules and expectations as your kids grow. For instance, many parents changed their stance on screen time during the pandemic. And “no food in the bedroom” may not work for your chronically depressed teen who needs more alone time.
Your best bet when raising teens is not to make any bets (it’s funny because it’s true). Adapt rules to work for you, pivot when necessary, and hang on for dear life. Now, onto the two rules of 12.
Rule 1: Date someone no more than 12 months younger or older than you.
“Your age should be within 12 months, in either direction, through high school and a good chunk of college,” Gwenna explains. “There’s a lot of emotional maturity and decision-making skills being learned in those teen years.”
That’s a solid point. How different were you during your senior year of high school from your sophomore year of college?
“My husband and I are two and a half years apart. So, when he was 19, I was still ,” the mama shares about her own relationship. “But, we didn’t meet until he was in his 30s and I was in my late 20s. The developmental and maturity gap had closed by the time we met.”
It’s long been said that the older you are, the more acceptable it is to have a bigger age gap between you and your partner. (There are, of course, still some instances that make people cringe.) The 12-month age range helps kids find partners that are close-ish in maturity and life experiences and helps them avoid anything statutory.
Rule 2: Wait 12 weeks before considering intimacy.
“You should give yourselves 12 weeks together before considering physical intimacy, through high school and a good chunk of college,” she says. “I’m not talking public displays of affection. Hand-holding, hugs, even kissing, that’s fine. You know full well what I mean when I say, ‘physical intimacy.'”
Sex, y’all. She means sex. Twelve weeks is a good amount of time to determine if a relationship will pan out when you’re a teen. And, no, being friends for years beforehand doesn’t count. They need to date for 12 weeks first and get to know each other in those new roles.
“I’m encouraging my kid to really get to know someone before introducing the complexities of a physical relationship,” explains Laithland. “Twelve weeks. Give ’em 12 weeks. If you still wanna f*** ’em, well, alright. Be safe.”
Laithland readily admits two things: She didn’t come up with these rules, and they may not work for your family. “This is a very nuanced convo,” she notes in the video. “This is a starting point, and you’ll still need to consider cultural, religious, and personal morals. This is one way to start this convo. Not the only.”
The rules seem to click with a lot of mamas, though, based on the comment section.
“12 weeks is also a good amount of time to decide if a relationship is ‘worth it’ or ‘serious,'” @theoperageek said.
“This 1000% 👏🏻👏🏻 Had this been implemented when I was a kid, it would’ve saved me a lot of pain and bad decisions!” @choose_chaos commented.
While some parents feel the 12 months over or under a teen’s age is an unrealistic age gap, one mom in the comments (@ahomegirl87) offered a viable alternative, saying, “My kid’s marching band crew has the following rule: ‘If your grades don’t touch, neither do you.'” This gives a little more wiggle room with age, but not so much that it ventures into maturity issues.
Either way, keeping teens safe is difficult work. And, yes, sometimes that means being labeled as “an overprotective parent.”