Taking a first step into the dating world can feel both exciting and unnerving for any young person. There are a lot of new experiences and emotions to navigate. For deaf young people, there can be additional concerns and challenges to overcome.
Danielle (23), who has progressive deafness, explains some of the worries she had when first dating.
“Dating is hard for anyone but there are extra challenges being deaf. For example some people think if you’re deaf you can’t communicate. I feel like it’s a bombshell I have to drop on them. Often nowadays you meet people through social media or dating apps and people will learn you’re deaf before they meet you. Sometimes they ask a million questions and then disappear. I’ve noticed my hearing friends are nervous on the way to a date about meeting the guy but I’m not nervous about that, I’m nervous about coping with the situation. What if I have to say ‘What?’ more than twice? Am I going to hear what the waiter says?”
Here are some ways to support your teen as they start to explore new relationships.
Your teen may be worried if they fancy or are interested in dating someone who’s not deaf, or they may even think that deaf and hearing people can’t date. However, although they might have to consider some issues (such as communication) differently, their deafness should not be a reason for not dating someone who is hearing.
Here are some important points to think about:
- Communication is essential in a healthy relationship. Your child should be honest with a hearing partner from the outset, letting them know that they are deaf, saying when they have missed hearing/seeing something, or asking for what they need. They should also tell their hearing partner what they can and cannot hear, what their communication needs are so that the hearing partner is aware of them possibly missing something when communicating, because they may not always be aware they have missed something.
- Miscommunication can happen in any relationship, especially when people are using different communication methods. Your teen may sometimes need to be patient and understanding of their partner too. Your teen can teach their new partner deaf awareness tips or some basic signs, if they know any themselves. This can help avoid communication issues in the future.
- Family and friends on both sides need be made aware of the couple’s needs.
- If your child has a strong deaf identity and belongs to the Deaf community, there may be differences between culture, values and humour with the person they’re dating. Good relationships are about talking about, respecting and sharing one another’s cultures.
If your child or teen is interested in someone who is hearing, or has different communication needs to their own, they will need to work with their partner to make dates accessible. There are lots of ways to do this. For example, seeing a film with subtitles or making sure to go to a restaurant with good lighting and low levels of background noise.
They could also try different methods of communication and technology on their dates, such as writing things down or using speech-to-text apps.
Some people may need to learn how to be deaf-friendly on dates: your teen might need to explain what their date needs to do to make the experience a good one for both of them. They may need to build confident to do so.
Danielle (23), who has progressive deafness, explains what can go wrong when young people don’t communicate their needs.
“My second boyfriend at university was great. When we went on our first date he asked my friend the best quiet restaurant to take me to, asked me all about my deafness and even visited me before the date so we could chat in a quiet environment. Unfortunately the bar we went to that night just happened to have the football team in and I couldn’t hear a thing! We were together 18 months and I told him a year later ‘You know that first date we went on? I don’t have a clue what you spoke to me about!’”
It’s also important your teen doesn’t accept a situation if either person is not comfortable. Your teen needs to raise any issues with their partner, otherwise there could be an unequal relationship dynamic.
As relationships might be new to your teen and they may feel more isolated than their peers it’s important they think about and know how to stay safe when dating or meeting new people.
Many relationships now start online or on a dating app. You usually have to be 18 to join a dating app. If your teen has met someone online, or is online dating, they need to know how to date safely.
Here are some safety guidelines for meeting someone face-to-face.
- Never give out personal details e.g. home address or school.
- Make sure your teen picks a public place to meet a new date, and tells someone about it, or takes a friend along. They should never agree to go to someone’s house or invite them to yours.
- If the date doesn’t look or seem like the person they were online, your teen should leave the date or call or text someone for help and support. They should also have a plan in place should this happen. They can also text EmergencySMS if they are in immediate danger.
- If things your teen’s date says or does makes them feel uncomfortable, they should end the date, or make an excuse and call someone for help/support.
Sex and consent
Information about sex isn’t always accessible for deaf young people. It’s important to note that in the UK you’re not allowed to have sex and cannot give consent before you’re 16 years old.
If your teen and their partner decide that they would like to start a sexual relationship, you can help them find accurate, deaf-friendly information by looking at our page about sex education.
Grooming and coercion
Grooming is when an abuser creates a relationship with a young person in order to manipulate, harm or exploit them. This can lead to sexual or criminal exploitation, such as getting a young person to join a gang or involved in drugs.
It’s important to recognise the signs of grooming or coercion and know what to do if you think it’s happening to your child so you can keep them safe. You can find out more about what to look out for and what to do on the NSPCC website.
Understanding what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like can help your teen spot the warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship and get support if needed.
Talking to your teen about what is and isn’t acceptable from a partner can help you understand your child’s own perceptions and views about relationships and what influences these, and whether they need support. This is particularly important when it comes to their deafness.
One parent has shared how they chat to their deaf daughter about relationships.
“We often talk about relationships as 'a connection' and that the right person will love her regardless of her hearing loss and that, if she felt the same way, she would feel comfortable. We try to foster some humour around intimacy, sharing a laugh when we give her a big hug and her hearing aids squeal or fall off!”
Relationship abuse can take many forms – it can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, coercive or controlling. Your teen can find out more about unhealthy relationships on the Childline website.
It’s not always easy to recognise the signs of abuse when you’re in a relationship. Having open and honest conversations about tricky or sensitive subjects with your teen will help them feel confident in talking to you and chatting through any concerns you or they might have in a sensitive way. Citizen’s Advice lists different organisations where you can get expert advice about abuse and how your teen can leave a relationship safely.
“I would say to other deaf young people worried about dating, embrace your deafness. Don’t dare try and push it down.” Read about Danielle and how recognising the things that are unique about her helped her navigate the dating scene.