Young Love: Sweet or Scary?

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

“I don’t want to go with out you anymore,” said my high school boyfriend, the keeper of my 14-year-old heart. “I like someone else, so that's it.”

And with that, my world came crashing down. I stood there frozen, stunned and wounded.

It was my first broken heart.

Kyle and I had been “going out” for almost four months — we’d hold hands in the hallways, sneak a smooch in the bus line, and arrange for our parents to drive us to and from the movies. At night, we’d spend hours on the phone and in the mornings, we’d meet first thing at our lockers to talk some more. In just a few months he’d gone from the guy in my geometry class to “the one.”

After hours of listening to my sobbing in her office, the nurse realized there was no solace for a teenage girl who just got dumped and sent me home early. It was a Friday, which allowed me to spend the next two days on the couch under a blanket of used tissues with the phone glued to my ear, bawling and blubbering to whichever girlfriend would listen.

Although it was over a decade ago and my heart has suffered much more serious aches since, just like anyone else, I can still remember the unimaginable pain of that first breakup. And those memories are pretty frightening to a mom when their kids start dating.

“When my daughter starts having real emotions about a boy, I'm going to think that's really scary, not sweet,” said Jen Duval Perreault, a mom of three from Palmer. “I'm really worried about the broken heart.”

Perreault's daughter, Lizzie, is only 10, but she knows dating is just around the corner. Perreault has already been through it with her sons, Tyler, 18 and Ryan, 14, and Lizzie recently revealed she's thinking about making a kid in her class her “boyfriend.”

“I think to them that's just a title. It means they like each other and they text each other, so I'm not really worried about that,” Perreault said. “It's when they get the car and the freedom — that's when it gets pretty scary.”

The specific age children develop their first romantic relationship varies by culture, gender and person, but for most it will happen at some point during adolescence, according to Headspace, a national youth mental health foundation. Experts say relationships become more common, more serious and last longer as kids grow from tweens, to young adolescents, to their mid-to-late teenage years. And while the idea of kids dating may be unnerving for parents, psychologists say relationships are an important part of a teen's development.

“Healthy relationships help youth refine their sense of identity and develop interpersonal skills, and also provide emotional support,” said Sarah Sorenson, with the ACT Youth Center for Excellence at Cornell University. But while healthy romantic relationships have the potential to benefit teens, she also pointed out that unhealthy relationships pose risks that could have a long-lasting impact.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, youths are particularly at risk for being in relationships that include violence or risky sexual activity. And teens who experience abuse are more likely to be involved in relationships that include violence as adults, the Center noted.

Other unhealthy behavior exhibited in young relationships is jealousy and possessiveness, which can lead teens to cast aside their interests. Perreault remembers noticing the issue when her oldest son, Tyler, a senior in high school, stopped seeing his friends.

“He and his girlfriend got a bit controlling of each other,” she said. “She didn't want him hanging out with his friends, and I was thinking, ‘Well, you love hanging out with your friends. What's going on?’ I was able to talk to him about it, but you have to do it really carefully. I told him, ‘Remember how you felt when so-and-so had a girlfriend and stopped seeing you?’”

Don't forget, just as parents are new to watching their children begin to date, the kids themselves are new to the experience, too.

“Young people do not automatically know what constitutes right and wrong behavior in dating relationships. Without a clear understanding of what makes a healthy relationship, youth are likely to tolerate relationships that put them at risk,” ACT’s Sorenson said. “For example, it may be easy for a teen to interpret jealousy or constant text messaging as a sign of love. Youth must be taught the characteristics of healthy relationships, how to differentiate a healthy relationship from an unhealthy one, and how to seek help if they find themselves in unhealthy relationships.”

“Things are different than when we were dating, and when a boy called you they had to call the house phone and everyone knew,” Perreault noted. “Kids have more privacy now with their cell phones, social media, texting, Snapchat. As a parent, watching it all is sweet and scary at the same time. You just have to be able to talk to them so they don't get hurt.”

For more resources and advice on how to broach the topic of unhealthy relationships with your teens, visit,, or call the Teen Dating Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474.

Signs your teen may be in an unhealthy relationship:

• Their partner shows a lack of respect for them, or for you

• Your child is being held back (in school sports, activities)

• Your child or their partner exhibits controlling  behavior

• Either partner feels “smothered”

• Abuse of any kind