When your teenager falls in love
The worst thing you can do is give your teen a sermon about being too young to fall in love.
ANYONE who has ever been a teenager knows the difficulty of wanting to break away from your parents and the shock of realizing how dependent you really are on them. Anyone who has ever raised a teenager has felt this same ambivalence -- the agony of wanting to keep your children close but knowing how you have to let them go sometime.Adolescence is a very scary time for your son or daughter. When a child enters the teenage years, he or she becomes overly preoccupied with looks. Girls start to menstruate, grow breasts, and shoot up a few inches. Boys grow hair and find their voices changing. They think in abstract terms and become argumentative. Emotions are extreme and volatile and small events can trigger enormous reactions. Your teens will want to spend as little time as possible with you and as much as they can with friends.But of all the changes taking places in your adolescent, the one that probably excites or terrifies you most is when they begin to explore the mysteries of young love. Admittedly, it is scary for most parents when their sons and daughters move from close friendship with their own sex to friendship and romantic attachments with the opposite sex.Teens in lovePatty Campos-Domingo, a psychologist and mother of three (two of them teenage boys, aged 14 and 18), describes what falling in love is like for a teenager.“It is an exhilirating experience. They seem to live on Cloud 9 and are always excited because they have never felt lilke this before. They want to be with the loved one 24 hours a day. They talk constantly of that person, especially with their peers.“For adolescents, falling in love usually begins with physical attraction (‘He’s so cute’... She’s got long, silky hair”). We must remember that at this stage, teenagers are very self-conscious about their looks, and being physically attractive does help boost one’s selt esteem. But when falling in love with someone, most teenagers look beyond the physical. Character and personality plays a very important role in the deepening attraction )’He sings so well’... ‘She’s so good in sports’... ‘He’s so intelligent’... ‘She’s very thoughtful’).”Don’t be scared, since falling in love is part of growing up. We have all experienced falling in love. “What we should try to avoid are delivering recurring long sermons about being too young to fall in love and giving unsolicited comments about their loved one. This will surely turn them off and discourage them from communicating with us about their experiences,” says Domingo.How to handle itHow do you handle your teenager’s experience of ‘first love’ and all the sexual activities that it may entail -- hand-holding, hugging, casual kissing, necking and petting, and genital contact? If you grew up in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, you must pride yourself in the fact that you are more liberal than your parents used to be and that you can talk to your children about sex openly and in helpful ways.The bad news is that talking about intimacy and sex remains a problem, even for us parents. Most of us withhold information from our adolescent children who end up getting it from friends who do not have the whole picture. Our children still do not talk to us about sex and are nervous or afraid to bring up the subject. Although teenagers say that they would like to be open and frank with us about sexual behavior, they resent being questioned, and they tend to consider their sexual activities nobody else’s business.Talk to your teensDomingo, Training Director of the Ateneo Wellness Center and co-founder/president of Resources and Inner Strategies for Excellence (RISE, Inc.), gives us helpful suggestions on how parents can communicate with their adolescent children about intimacy and sex and help them deal with the ecstasy and agony of first love.Keep communications lines open.Be sensitive to your teenager’s desire to talk to you, and give him or her your undivided attention. Keep the door open on any subject. “As a busy working parent, you must find time and ways to communicate with your children,” says Domingo. “It is important to let them know that you are aware of what is going on in their lives -- the physiological changes that are taking place or will be taking place at this time of their lives. Journey with them into this new stage of growth by sharing the experiences you had at their age. Share the excitement, fears, sadness and joys you had.”“But when you talk to them, be aware of what you say and how you say it -- the tone of your voice, your facial expression. Your non-verbal behavior can affect the way you communicate messages to your teen.Learn to listen and understand.This is of utmost importance. Listen calmly and concentrate on hearing and understanding your teenager’s point of view -- and then offer your own views as clearly and honestly as possible. Even though adolescents want to exchange ideas with their parents, they are disappointed that their parents explain more than they listen. Try to understand their feelings even if you don’t always approve of their behavior.Treat your teenagers and their friends with respect.Speak to your teenager as courteously as you would speak to an adult. Show them respect, so they can develop respect for themselves. Avoid belittling and humiliating your teenager and laughing at what may seem to you to be naïve or foolish questions and statements. Do not make unfavorable comments about the loved one, as it will make them defensive. They may begin to distance themselves from you. Try to avoid criticizing their friends directly and find a more tactful way of communicating your message.Get them involved in the negotiation of rules.“They have a stake in what is going on. If they think a decision is unreasonable, explain it to them,” says Domingo. Early adolescents are not yet capable of reflecting on the morality of their actions and dealing with the appropriate and effective punishment so they tend to complain more. But by age 16, adolescents are able to coordinate their own and their parents’ perspectives on behavior. This allows them to better understand and appreciate their parents’ needs and restrictions. Older adolescents can certainly use negotiation skills so far as privileges, freedom, and discipline are concerned.Adds Domingo: “By letting them participate in the decision-making, you make them responsible for keeping their side of the bargain.”Set reasonable limits and be consistent.Domingo believes that there is one ground rule that is non-negotiable: setting limits with your children and making sure they know there are rules to be followed. “You have to be consistent with their limits,” she says.Studies have shown that when parents ignore obvious signs of sexual activity, young people sometimes become puzzled and angry. “They want limits to be set. Children can be taught to set limits for themselves by learning to assert themselves and to say no when necessary. In the same manner, they learn to respect the wishes of others when they say no,” explains Domingo.Make them aware that they are responsible for what they do.Domingo says that adolescents have what the psychologist David Elkind calls personal fable -- the conviction that they are special, that their experience is unique, and that they are not subject to the natural rules that govern the rest of the world. This belief accounts for much of teens’ self-destructive behavior. “They believe they are invulnerable. It is for this reason that adolescents must be made aware that they are responsible for what they do,” says Domingo.Many of the arguments between you and your teens will be about “how much” and “how soon”; for instance, how much freedom they have to decide what they can do and how soon they can go on a date without a chaperone. You have to be more flexible in your thinking and less authoritarian with your teenage children than you were when they were younger. You need to perfect your balancing act -- how to walk the fine line between granting them more independence and protecting them from immature lapses in their judgment. And yet, you should not try to keep them from taking risks -- especially falling in love.Just trust your parental instincts and not worry too much. You survived your first love. It is very likely that your teen will, too.