My 16-year-old son spent a lot of time with his girlfriend over the summer. Because of social distancing, they never got closer than six feet, which gave me much more peace of mind! Instead, they talked a lot and didn’t complicate their teenage love by adding physical intimacy.
One night, I asked my son if he felt like he was getting to know his girlfriend better. “Mom,” he said, like someone stating the obvious. “At this point, I know everything about her.” Ahhh, teenage love. One of the truths about young love is that when they’re in it, they can’t comprehend what they don’t know. Here are 5 ways to help your kids navigate teenage love.
Understand that teenage love feels real.
You probably have married friends who met in high school, so young love can be real. But whether it is or isn’t, it feels real to your child, so don’t make fun of or belittle it. In fact, get to know the person your child is interested in. Include him or her in your family gatherings. That will give you insight into how your child acts in a relationship and show you what kind of qualities he or she finds attractive.
Remember, with teenage love, you have to parent to the actions, not the feelings. You can’t control how your child feels, but you can influence his or her choices and actions. So say something like, “You feel really strongly now, but don’t be blinded. You want to be able to see both the positive and the negative in the person you care about.”
Help your children understand that they don’t want to lose themselves in a relationship. Help them see that they shouldn’t quit a sport, hang out with friends less, or choose a college based on a relationship.
Seize the teaching opportunity.
Now that my son has a girlfriend, the door is open to talk about what a healthy relationship looks like. We discuss things like jealousy, trust and kindness, and how the person you love should make you a better person and add joy to your world, not turbulence.
Address the S word.
Teenage love pairs two very potent powers—sex hormones and emotional immaturity. That combination makes it imperative to talk to our kids about sex. Whenever you talk about sex, be sure to share facts and values. Be honest about the physical risks of sex—and about the fact that sex is best within the context of marriage.
Also, while sex can happen anywhere, don’t put your children in situations where they have to muster extreme self-control. In other words, don’t let your child be at home alone with his or her significant other. Talk to the other parents and see what the rules are at their house.
It’s OK if teenage love doesn’t last.
Some kids feel pressured to stay in a relationship. They don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, they’re afraid of being alone, or they don’t know how to break up. Prepare your child for the feelings that come after a breakup. Tell your child sadness, loneliness, or regrets don’t mean the decision to break up was wrong.
What are your relationship guidelines for your kids?