The power of teenage love.
When it comes to talking to your kids about dating, many parents would rather go to the dentist for a root canal. Anything seems better than dealing with the possibly awkward interaction of having your teen divulge information about their love life. Our young adults feel the same way! Usually, we are the last people they want to confide in when they are thinking about how to manage the world of relationships and romance. And yet it is important, so when it comes to opening up the conversation about your teen’s first romance, here’s some advice from a mama who’s gone through it with three teenage boys…
I remember managing three teen boys at once and it was not as awkward as one might imagine, even with first romance. But we started early, from late middle school, to establish rules about going out with anyone, not just members of the opposite (or same) sex. There were the “interrogation” questions (our boys’ term) that needed to be answered: Who, what, when and sometimes why? My boys also leaned towards going/hanging out in groups or inviting mates over. We made it a point to meet most of their mates and be on friendly terms with their parents.
This was a far cry from the type of advice I received from my fairly strict father. Growing up, my dad wasn’t much of a talker, especially compared to my mum and generally, she handled all the negotiations regarding my social life. He had some simple rules:
“Be home by 11:30 because nothing good happens ever after midnight.”
“Don’t let a boy put his hand on your leg, especially above the knee.”
“Do not go out with a boy who does not come to the door to pick you up (and consequently meets us) because this means he doesn’t respect you.”
This was in the mid to late 80s and I wasn’t allowed to even consider “dating” until I turned 16. Why? Maybe because they knew once I got my driving licence, it would be more complicated to keep me around the house!
So what is it like to offer today’s teens dating and relationship advice? How do we manage these discussion points without sounding archaic and out of touch? In an article on verywell family, Dr Amy Morin discusses how technology is indeed changing the way our teens experience romance. A licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and lecturer at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, Morin says, “Today’s parents are faced with so many issues that previous generations didn’t have to deal with – like knowing how to set rules about a child’s internet use. Certainly, discipline isn’t a one-size-fits-all issue.” Parents need to be aware that:
- Teens today can have access to other teens all over the world. There are countless opportunities to connect with friends of friends, as well as strangers through social media. According to the Pew Research Center, around 8% of teens claim to date someone they first met online.
- Teens flirt virtually, rather than in real life. They can share jokes, emoticons and winks with anyone at any time via social media.
- Harassment online is a problem for our teens today. They may experience intense harassment, sexual pictures or unwanted advances on social media. Many report having to block or un-friend others because of this.
- Social media allows teens to follow and see others’ public comments, photos and conversations concerning their partner. This creates uncertainty and jealousy within their relationships.
- Technology provides constant contact, meaning teens know what their boyfriend or girlfriend is doing at all times during the day. In the report, 85% of teens expect to hear from their love interest at least once daily and 11% expect to hear from them hourly.
- It’s possible that many times, your teen might experience a break up via text message, Facebook or email. No longer is it even necessary to have a face to face conversation to get dumped.
- Sexting is something that most teens engage in at least once. There are so many opportunities to share nude images, and while some consider it a form of flirting, others feel pressure to do so.
Armed with this information, parents are enabled to have meaningful and important conversations with their teens about dating and their first romance. As they are not yet adults, it is up to us to guide them and offer examples of healthy behaviour.
I spoke with Mirjam Tiel van Buul, a Clinical Gestalt Psychotherapist and Counsellor (for couples and individuals). A registered nurse, she also holds degrees in clinical psychology, psychopathology and human development. Her advice to parents involves finding opportunities to broach the subject, and being proactive in listening to and striving to understand your teen and where they’re at. Her tips include:
- Firstly, don’t be afraid to speak with your teen about the topic.
- Find moments in daily life, where a natural opening can occur. For example, watch a movie together and then afterwards ask open-ended questions: “What did you think about the way the couple related to one another in that plot?”
- Empower them to express their thoughts.
- Be willing to listen to their concerns or questions. Don’t advise if not solicited and refrain from lecturing.
“When teens are open and coming to you with questions or feelings that are confusing, first of all, it is important to validate those feelings. Even when those feelings may be frightening, it does not mean we will act on them. By offering this validation, we give teens the sense of feeling normal as well as the opportunity to learn and grow,” she says.
Teens might turn to destructive behaviours when overwhelmed by their feelings, possibly not even realising what they are doing. It’s crucial that parents check in with them and notice different behaviours, such as overeating, drug and/or alcohol use, and excessive sleeping. “I notice you are sleeping more than usual. Why do you think that is?” It’s important that we give our children the opportunity to connect with their feelings and how they relate to bodily responses.
It’s not easy parenting teens today. Technology has certainly changed the way they manage relationships. Parents, however, can provide a safe place where their teens can learn about managing relationships. This doesn’t mean they will want to tell you everything that is happening with them. Nevertheless, if they know you will respond with compassion and an intention to understand their perspective, they will be much more likely to trust you and turn to you for support and advice.