Teen Love and Dating: Should they, or shouldn’t they?
Teen love is natural. Here, we will provide you with some tips to learn how to handle and deal with this important milestone for your kids.
We can affirm that we have all experienced the feeling of love and being in love during our teenage years. This sensation adds richness, happiness, and growth to our lives, and a chance to discover ourselves, as it makes us feel important, understood, and also brings us a sense of belonging while sharing with someone new. Love and romance give us the opportunity to love ourselves, discover self-respect, how to respect and value others as well; it is a natural way of growing up. For that matter, teen romance shouldn’t be discouraged. However, in the midst of a new generation that battles together with the knowledge of technology, some lines must be drawn as these technologies have made teens creative and smart towards how to develop romantic bonds behind their parent’s backs.
Way too often, teenage feelings are neglected for the parents’ worry, especially for how the definition of “relationship” has changed during the last couple of years, and how grooming has interfered in the development of young love. In this crucial time, and knowing how influential these tender ages can be, parents must have good communication regarding all scopes: feelings, sentimental relationships, physical relationships. This will ensure honesty and support for the child that during the adolescence stage, which means moving from childhood to adulthood, most tend to react aggressively towards this phase of changes and process of development. Moreover, when they feel that their freedom is being limited, teens will only worsen things and get lost in their path.
As a result, there is a lot of debate and stigma surrounding teen love as their physical, mental, and psychological states are on the way to maturity. Most teenagers fantasize about their life and future in this age; and, as they are not fully mature to make independent decisions, they need parental care and support to guide them and teach them about healthy and unhealthy relationships as well as preventing them from unwanted emotional hazards.
When do teenage relationships start?
As every human being is different, there is no such “right age” to start developing feelings and relationships. However, studies have shown that from the age of 9-11, most kids start to show more interest in friends than family. From 10-14 years, tweens spend more time with mixed-gender groups, which eventually may result in a sentimental relationship. Now, with teenagers from 15-19, friendships become deeper and more stable, becoming the center of their social life; also, romantic relationships are the core of their social status. During these years, teenage relationships might last only a few months or even just weeks, however, this does not mean that teen love is not real or that it cannot last. These factors will be determined by the individuals and if they are willing to develop feelings of love as there are some children that show no interest in romantic relationships until their late teens for prioritizing school work, hobbies, or other interests as sports.
Before the development of romantic relationships, most children develop emotional crushes, meaning that the child feels a bond or connection with someone they admire and want to be like them. The attraction to the other person is purely physical as there is excitement and energy, but these feelings are surface level and don’t go deeper than lust. Moreover, a romantic crush is when romantic feelings and physical attraction arises, and the child imagines the other person as perfect or even ideal for them. These romantic crushes evolve and tend not to last very long as the child spends more time and gets to know better their idolized “one.” However, these intense feelings are real, so the best thing to do is to support them, even if those crushes may change and vary within a short time.
Early-stage teenage relationships
As tweens grow, they tend to spend more time with mixed-gender groups with the excuse of meeting up with someone special among their friends. This will lead to gradually spending more time with that person in particular.
In order to know and understand if the child is ready to develop an emotional relationship, parents should talk together with their kids about their feelings, what they truly want, and give them a proper guideline.
Guiding teens about relationships
Having good communication with your child plays a big role in how teenagers will view relationships. These encouraging conversations about feelings, family, and friends, can help the child to feel understood and supported in general as they will develop trust and confidence about opening up without feeling judged. A kindly-respectful family environment will reflect on how they develop and see relationships as they can relate these bonds with romantic relationships and people’s boundaries. Moreover, these conversations should involve talking about friendship, sex, and relationships from a young age in order to provide the child with tools and knowledge as they move into adolescence. However, this will depend on your family values and ground rules, and the consequences of breaking those behavioral rules. Even if some youngsters prefer to talk to their friends about their feelings, which is completely healthy, they will still need your support and backup, so keep the communication open for them.
Sex and teenagers
Intimacy is a crucial factor in relationships. For that matter, parents should talk with their kids about sex, sexuality, and relationships, and answer every question it may arise, as well as explaining to them about respect, boundaries, and unwanted sexual pressure. Despite the fact that not all teenage relationships include sex before they are ready, most teenagers will experiment with sexual behavior at some stage of their adolescence as part of self-knowledge. This is why parents need to inform and instruct their kids, as well as provide them with tools, about contraception, safe sex, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Parents should always let their kid know that they are there for them no matter what and that they can ask about their concerns.
Same-sex attraction and experimentation
The start of puberty for 3-10% of young adolescents will mean the development of some sort of attraction to people of the same sex or even bisexual experiences. Given the case, if the child believes his feelings are somehow confusing to him, the best approach is to respond positively without judging. Parents should be the first pillar of support regarding this type of situation, meaning they should remain calm and understanding as sexuality develops and often changes over time. It is important to highlight that exploration and experimentation with sexuality are common and normal, that children shouldn’t use labels to identify themselves as a stereotypical canon of life as they are discovering themselves. What should be considered as important is that safety comes first.
Breakups in teenage relationships: how to cope with them?
Broken hearts being the result of a breakup is part of teenage relationships and a lesson most teenagers should see as something positive. It may not seem that way at first, given the circumstances, but this is an opportunity to learn how to cope with difficult decisions and disappointments, to learn how to see the positive from the negative. It’s not easy, and we won’t say that the feelings of sadness and grief are not real. Emotional teenagers might need time, space, distraction, someone to talk to, to be listened to, as well as a shoulder to cry on after a breakup. However, if these feelings persist or even develop into depression for more than a few weeks after the breakup, parents should seek advice from a health professional.
Teenagers with additional needs and relationships
Teenagers with additional needs need the same information about sex and relationships as other teenagers as they will develop the same need in order to self-discover themselves. Studies have shown that the rates of young teens with additional needs being sexually active are the same as those for teenagers without additional needs. Nonetheless, teens should be appropriately informed about sex and sexual development. Information is the most important tool for their safety.
The healthiest formula to the teenage romance equation: parents + teenagers = family
The relationship between parents and teenagers should be of support and understanding. Seeing the teens as adversaries only brings problems and negative thoughts that later may develop into feelings of anger, frustration, shock, and even shame and guilt. Moreover, these feelings tend to modify how parents behave with their teens by excessive control, bans and restrictions. The result is a breakdown in the parent-teen relationship, destroying a natural bond and leaving behind a frustrated and irritated parent with a helpless child. This shouldn’t be the way as it is unfortunate for the teen. Parents need to be supportive and understanding more than ever with these “teen love” situations, and they can learn to accept and communicate with their child by doing the following:
ACCEPT the relationship
After the initial and possible shock of the situation, parents should take their time to seek support so that they can think clearly without disturbing emotions. Parents should act as a team, sharing the same approach to the matter with the only purpose of supporting and helping the child. Reassurance to the child that they are all together with no matter what and that they can trust them is what the child needs to know, together with empathy, compassion, and understanding.
UNDERSTAND the teen’s feeling
Parents should be aware of all the changes, physical and emotional, that occur during puberty. This will result in understanding what is going on within the teen’s brain: developed heightened emotions, seeking a place of belonging and acceptance, trying new experiences to explore their individuality. Self-discovery is a way to create their own identity can be the way teens seek freedom and independence. Teens should have their space and privacy, but knowing that they are not alone and that their parents will always be there for them, though in different ways.
COMMUNICATE with the teen about love and relationships
Parents need to be open-minded and observative towards the teen’s needs. Without being intrusive, parents can help their teens by creating an emotionally safe space for discussion and problem-solving. In this case, communication needs to be clear, choosing the right words and leveling the tone of voice as well as reflecting a calm body language. This will result in mutual respect and understanding, a safe place they can trust and open up without arguments or judgments.
Moreover, here are some dos and don’ts that can help parents guide their kids even before dating:
- Do look for someone you feel comfortable with: this means that you can be yourself around that person, that both of you can share different opinions on something knowing that’s okay. You can trust each other when you are not together; and, most importantly, you are not pressured to do things you don’t want to.
- Don’t forget about your friends: Friends are one of the most important bonds in one’s life. You shouldn’t drop your friends for having a romantic relationship. These relationships are both special in their own ways.
- Don’t forget to be true to yourself: Even when sharing interests with the person you are dating is natural, don’t forget to keep your identity and interests that reflect the person you are.
- Do talk about your problems: Communication is the best answer when problems arise. Besides, hiding from these problems will only make them bigger. Admitting that there is something wrong, talking it up together and fixing it together is the healthiest you can do. Different points of view are something normal in a relationship and that doesn’t mean that the relationship is doomed, this is the difference between good and bad conflict. Explain clearly how you feel, listen to your partner, and try to be understanding.
- Do know the signs of an abusive relationship: There are certain traits in an abusive partner that you should be aware of. They tend to be constantly critical of you, without thinking about your feelings. Most try to keep you away from your friends or family. Gaslighting is a common sign, together with threats and intrusiveness of your privacy.