"Parents need to set the ground rules for what they'd hope that date might look like," said Carrol Lourie, director of the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition.
The nonprofit group, among other things, provides information and other resources to parents about dating and the importance of healthy relationships.
"It's a lifelong conversation parents need to have with their children," Lourie said.
In Washington County, it's a conversation more parents need to be having. The county has the fourth-highest teen birthrate in Maryland, behind Baltimore City, and Caroline and Dorchester counties, according to Washington County Health Department data.
The coalition and the health department has been trying to lower the number of teen births.
The rules for dating are clear in the Tooley household.
The Tooley children aren't allowed to go on dates until they're 16, Melynie Tooley said.
"Sixteen, that just seems to be the magical number for everything," Melynie said.
While Lourie said there was no set age for when the first date should occur, supervised, group dates are more appropriate for younger teens - those about 12 to 14 years old.
"It's not like they can drive anywhere anyway," Lourie said.
There also should be a strong family presence for older teens who go on one-on-one, unchaperoned dates outside the home.
One way to evoke this presence is by having the teens - both males and females - bring their dates inside the home to meet the parents.
"It sends an important message that they have a family who are supportive," Lourie said.
There seems to be a double standard for teen boys, however.
Susan Yano of Smithsburg said that while her daughter Anne, 15, must bring her dates to the house, that's not necessarily a requirement for her 17-year-old son, Will. But he brings them by anyway.
"We do like to meet them," Susan Yano said.
Will is also protective of his sister and keeps a close eye on the kinds of guys she likes to date.
"If they make her cry, I make them cry," said Will, who will be a senior at Smithsburg High School this year.
Susan Yano said she has other ways to enforce her rules. "I might just show up (during the date)," she said.
She also makes her children kiss her goodnight. "That way you can smell their breath," Yano said.
Yano, who has four children, is involved with a youth group called Right Choice Ministries, a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian group that tackles dating and other issues affecting young people.
Girls talk about modesty and why they shouldn't be the "tissue (disposable) girlfriend," Yano said. The guys talk about "gentlemanly topics," Will Yano said.
All four of her children attend the group's Saturday sessions at Breezy Acres Farm, off Old Forge Road.
Lourie said that it's important that the teens have a strong sense of the family's values by the time they go on their first date and should go over all the "what-ifs."
"What if you're at a party and someone offers you a drink? What if someone offers you drugs? What if the guy you're with wants sex?" Lourie said. "You need to go over with them what they would do in those situations."
While there might be some initial grumbling, most teens will appreciate the parents' rules in the long run.
Elly Popper, 20, an English major at Hagerstown Community College, said she is glad that her parents set boundaries when she was younger.
"I still bring my dates over to the house," Popper said. "It's important to me that they meet."
Tips for parents of teens who are dating
Tips from Carrol Lourie, director of the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, include:
Insist your teen's date come in the house so that you can meet him or her.
Know the details of the date - where it is, when it's happening, whether adults will be around.
Make your presence known. If the teens are in the house, parents should be present, and teens should not be left alone.
Be an "askable" parent. Teens should feel comfortable enough to ask you anything.
Go over all the "what-if" scenarios in advance ("What if there are drugs?" "What if your date wants sex?")
· Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition has parental "tool kits" available at Washington County Free Library. Call 240-818-7555.
· Right Choice Ministries, a nondenominational youth-based ministry, encourages young people to make good life choices. The group is open to seventh- through 12th-graders and meets from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturdays at Breezy Acres Farm, off Old Forge Road, northeast of Hagerstown. Visit www.rightchoiceministries.org or call 301-797-8157 for more information.
· Information about free services for teens is available at Washington County Health Department, online at www.washhealth.org or by calling 240-313-3296.