Teen romance has been around for centuries. Many of our grandparents were married young to a partner they fell in love with as teens. However, when it is your child, it can take parents by surprise when sons or daughters have their first romantic relationship. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate this new stage of your child’s life.
First of all, relax. This is the first relationship your child is having and almost certainly not the last. Relationships are normal, healthy, and an important part of your child’s development.
Allow for casual conversation about his/her friend. Ask her about him/her. What do you like about him? What does she like to do on the weekend? What do your child’s friends think of him? How does she talk about her parents? What are some of his interests?
Try to provide opportunities for your child to entertain her friend at your home with the rest of your family around. Friday night pizza or joining the family for a movie night can allow you to observe the quality of your child’s relationship and gives your child a chance to see how her “crush” acts around adults and siblings in various situations.
Encourage balance in your child’s life. A healthy relationship is a part of one’s life, but it doesn’t dominate. Encourage time with friends and continued interest in and dedication to school and extracurricular activities.
Make sure you and your spouse have agreed-upon and clearly - set rules. There should be few, but non-negotiable, limits:
• No hanging out in the bedroom with the door closed.
• No access to phones or tablets after bedtime; there should be no all-night texting or Skyping their partner.
• No sexting (sending of inappropriate photos or sexually explicit texts).
• No expensive gifts for birthdays or holidays.
• Set a time at which you expect your child to be home on weeknights and weekends.
Don’t judge. Even if you don’t like the person your child is dating, be respectful. Unless there is something absolutely unacceptable about your child’s friend (i.e. age, substance abuse, not attending school), be supportive and remember that he may be attracted to someone different from whom you imagine. Actively discouraging the relationship will make many children even more intent on continuing it and will most certainly affect the openness of your conversations.
Model kindness with your own partner so your children see a positive example of what romantic relationships are like. If your child sees you as reliable and dependable, expressing thanks, and listening thoughtfully, she will more likely act this way and expect these traits in her partner.
Ensure that your child is able to be herself around and trusts her new love interest; that she doesn’t feel pressured to do something she’s not comfortable with; that she can talk to you about any concerns or ask you any questions about relationships; and that she remains true to herself over the course of the relationship.
However, we also need to recognize the signs that your child could be in an unhealthy relationship. If you have concerns, share them with your child. Some common clues that a relationship is not healthy include:
• Constant texts and a fear of not having one’s phone with him/her all the time.
• Having to check in and say who they are with and what they are doing.
• Signs of physical abuse or depression.
• A change in academic performance and/or withdrawal from social and/or team activities.
Most likely, the relationship will end. It’s hard to see our children experience sadness. But learning how to manage loss; the knowledge that time makes things better; and the understanding that there is more than one person that you can be attracted to are key life lessons.
Juanita Allen Kingsley, Wilderness EMT, is director of business development for Century Health Systems. Juanita has successfully created and facilitated various programs aimed at providing individuals of varying ages and backgrounds the necessary education and tools to foster effective and positive social development, including Home Alone Safety, Bullyproofing, Babysitting Lessons, Family Life and Sexual Health, and Girls’ Empowerment. She is also a certified socialsklz:-) instructor.