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Teen Talk: Danger...Teenager in Love...
Teen Talk - Live
Chris is taking “Teen Talk” on the road. If you are a member of a parent group or responsible for finding engaging speakers for student or youth groups, please contact Chris at www.chrislincoln-speaker.com
Teenager In Love
Given the emotional rollercoaster of the teenage years, and the fact that the individuals involved are uncomfortable with just about every aspect of their own lives, being in love is the equal, yet opposite, of all the “hate” issues that Teen Talk has about recently.
My first piece of advice is, don’t tell those involved that it is not real, or just puppy love, or that they’ll get over it. They will not believe you, and with good reason. With their emotional controls set to maximum, this may in fact be the most intense emotional experience of their lives. Now, it is true that it is unlikely to last, but that does not change the intensity of their current feelings.
My second piece of advice is, don’t minimize, rather, celebrate these wonderful feelings with your teen. Be actively engaged, be happy for them, and watch them like the hawk that you know you are. What little rational brain is left in your teen will function at a basic survival level, at best. Emotion is trumping reason by a crushingly large percentage, and if you want to have any input, you will need both kid gloves and a will of steel.
Now, your first impression of the new love of your son or daughter’s life is unlikely to be positive. I would suspect that the majority of first loves have minimal input from the logic department. But, how you handle this event, demonstrates to your teen how you are likely to respond to their growing freedom. If handled well, it could set up a strong positive relationship that leads (eventually) to you both trusting each other, and listening to each other’s advice, in matters of the heart.
Handled badly, it could effectively sideline you from this part of your child’s life. (Bad would involve shouting, expressing your dislike of their choice of paramour in blunt, or expletive terms, telling them they are stupid, etc.)
“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did,” should be a game plan, not a line in an argument.
This becomes incredibly complicated if there is a substantial age differential. Your thirteen-year old daughter being enamored of a high school junior sets alarm bells ringing for many reasons. A combination of the pre-sexual with the sexual is unlikely to end well. There are both power and control issues at play here, different levels of freedoms and different levels of expectations. (This is too complex an issue to discuss here - my focus is on the pre-sexual teen in these articles)
You will feel very protective/defensive of your child; the trick is getting that across accurately to your teen. Your concerns can very easily be misinterpreted as interfering, or jealousy, or just an extension of your overall ‘hatred’ of your child. I think a unified parent front is the best approach. One that is welcoming to the new person in your child’s life, but wary.
At the heart of this strategy is the idea that you want to draw the love interest into your sphere of influence. A relationship out of your sight, out of your awareness, is more likely to become a problem. This is an extension of the idea of having your child’s friends feel welcome and comfortable in your home.
With younger teens, the most likely meeting place is in your car. I suggest you volunteer to drive as much as you can. It is amazing what this age range will talk about and share while you are driving. Adults quickly become invisible, and, within the peer group, there are few secrets. By knowing your child’s friends, both male and female, you create a positive environment for relationships to run their course. One that the kids are reluctant to mess with - they do need transportation after all! Your simple presence in and around them provides a higher level of confidence for both you and them.
The idea of focusing on the positives while you are wracked with deep dark concerns may seem a little strange. The problem here is that your entire approach may be based on the worst-case scenarios, while theirs is full of the glow of the best-case scenarios. A mix of your adult wisdom and their youthful optimism, without either losing sight of each other, is the best way to handle this. Communication, as always, is key, and it is really easy to shut it down by over-reacting, or coming on too strong.
It is a heady brew when you first discover that someone else is attracted to you. Even more so, if it happens at a time when you are going through so many changes that you hardly know who you are yourself. To often, we assume that people think highly of themselves, when they really don’t. Beautiful people often have no idea how others see them, they usually only see their faults. Genuine compliments, and positives are very important, as a good sense of self is the best defense against becoming a victim of any kind.
I would always be encouraging of group activities over pair activities, as a ‘couple’ who ignore their friends and focus only on each other, experience an emotional intensity that is unlikely to survive for long. It is also the most likely to lead to sexual exploration with older teens. It is a rare parent who can ask if their child is sexually active, without it coming over as “accusing” them of having sex. If any relationship blossoms and starts to acquire a history, you will be glad that you were a part of that from the beginning. Included rather than excluded.
Anything that you can do to encourage the beauty and innocence of young love to remain beautiful and innocent, I think, will ensure that your relationship with your child will grow. It may be hard as a jaded adult to see things from this perspective, but by simply recognizing this as a special thing for your child, it allows them to develop healthier interpersonal relationships.
It also allows you in, when the inevitable break-up happens. Now your child truly needs your love and wisdom, and by not minimizing the experience in the first place, you now get to share, and help, and advise, and be the parent to your hurting child.