Flirting and Dating for Visually Impaired Teenagers
Almost anyone can recognize flirting and guess that a couple is dating simply by watching their behavior. Sighted children have lots of opportunities to observe how older teenagers and grownups flirt; they see people holding hands and smiling at each other, kissing, and hugging—at the mall, waiting in line for a movie, or walking through the park. That’s a key way they learn how people behave when they have romantic feelings for each other. Children with impaired vision may not be able to see those behaviors clearly, so it’s harder for them to understand flirting and dating.
Describe What May Not Be Able to Be Seen
As your child reaches early adolescence, begin to share what you see. If the two of you are in a check-out line and the couple ahead of you are holding hands and gazing at each other, describe their behavior once the two of you have privacy. Watch television together and describe and discuss what’s going on between the couples on screen. It’s information your preteen or teenager needs to have! You’re probably the best person to provide the information, but if doing that makes you uncomfortable, be sure someone—an older brother or sister or a more mature friend—fills in for you.
Flirting as a Visually Impaired Teen
There are various ways you can help your child learn about flirting and recognize when someone is flirting with him or her. For example:
- As you watch movies or television together, describe the flirting going on—how a teenage couple is looking at each other, their body language, and how close or far apart they are. Encourage your teen to listen to the characters’ tones of voice and their comments.
- When you’re out or in social situations with your teen, let him or her know if you notice someone who seems interested. Describe how this person is behaving and quietly talk about ways in which one might respond.
- Suggest that your child join a drama group. Performers learn how to use body language, gestures, and tone of voice to convey feelings. Honing those skills in play-acting would give practice in how to use them and respond in real-life situations.
- Encourage your child to talk to trusted friends about how to deal with any concerns. For example, the two of them might decide to have a subtle signal that the friend could use to let your teen know if someone is trying to flirt with him or her.
Dating as a Visually Impaired Teen
For youngsters in their early teens, dates are often group activities with several young people going together to the movies or the mall. Some teens may pair off, but more often than not, there are friends nearby. Toward the end of high school, some teens start pairing off as couples with romantic feelings for one another.
In general, teens who are comfortable with themselves and their visual impairments will find that their friends and dates are going to be comfortable as well. Teens who can laugh about their visual impairments and make others feel at ease are more likely to be successful in dating relationships. Helping your teenager build self-esteem and deal with feelings about being visually impaired can also help develop self-acceptance and a more relaxed attitude.
Most parents have mixed feelings about their children’s social lives. On the one hand, they want their children to be independent, popular, and happy. On the other hand, they worry about letting them go out into a world that is sometimes unsafe. If you’re concerned and think your teenager is particularly vulnerable because of a visual impairment, try to find ways of letting go while doing your best to ensure safety. For example:
- Meet your teen’s date and consider having the two of them spend time at your home together before they go out alone. That way you can get to know and evaluate the date.
- Make sure your teenager understands personal safety issues. Encourage your teen to have a plan just in case he or she is feeling uncomfortable.
- Consider a self-defense course for your teen. The Hadley School for the Blind offers a correspondence course in self-defense for people with visual impairments, and other organizations and schools may offer information on self-defense. Training in this area may help reassure you and your teen about him or her safety and may also increase your child’s feelings of self-confidence.
Helping Your Teenager Overcome Challenges
Dating involves a number of social issues in addition to safety. For example, teens need information about how to dress for dates. Let your teen know what kinds of clothes and hairstyles other teens are wearing. Encourage your teen to ask a trusted friend for advice on how to dress for the date.
Especially for boys, not being able to drive can add an extra challenge to dating. You might suggest letting you or another adult or an older sibling drive your child and a date to where they plan to spend the evening or encourage your child to double date with another couple. Suggesting that the two of them walk, use public transportation, or hire a taxi are other alternatives.