I’ve met plenty of teenagers who are “in love”. As a former middle and high school teacher, this was a daily occurrence. I often found the plight of the lovelorn adolescent comical and pitiful: Comical because of the drama that often surrounds teenage romances and pitiful because I felt sorry for the parents.
How the tables have turned.
My general amusement on the whole phenomenon took a turn when, seemingly out of nowhere, my kids became teenagers and wanted to start dating.
Of course, I believed the most reasonable response to the situation was simply to suppress the idea entirely. This is what other parents have to wrestle with, not me!
After a few disagreements and some reasoning from my wife, I’ve come to a conclusion. The answer isn’t simply to cover my eyes and ears and yell, “No!” I can’t pretend my teenaged children aren’t growing up and I can’t stop the “butterflies” that come with adolescent attraction.
Perhaps I’m a bit uptight about the whole dating thing. But I know teenage “love” can be tricky to navigate and while I can acknowledge that it’s near unavoidable, I also believe that it’s foolhardy to simply let my kids go about dating without any guidance or boundaries.
Our greatest desire is to teach and help our kids understand what we believe are important lessons when it comes to dating and teenage “love,” finding a balance between micro-managing their lives and giving them unfettered freedom.
Attraction, even really strong attraction, is not love
It’s easy for teens to fall for some cute guy or girl, get swept away in their emotions, and believe they are in love.
I want my kids to learn what true love really is. It’s ok – and expected – to enjoy the elation that comes when you really like someone and those feelings are reciprocated. But love involves so much more than a nice feeling and it doesn’t suddenly disappear when you no longer get the emotional high that comes early on in a dating relationship. Being in love also means keeping the other parts of life in perspective. This includes family, school, work and so on.
My goal isn’t to somehow quash those butterflies, but to ensure that my kids don’t develop tunnel vision when it comes to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
I simply want them to realize these feelings are great, but the other parts of their lives don’t suddenly take a time-out while they play out their teenage romance.
A teens world should not revolve around a relationship
It’s not unusual for teenagers who believe they’re in love to neglect a lot of other things in their lives. They can hardly think of anything or anyone else other than the object of their affections. But I don’t want my kids to forget they have other important relationships – perhaps even more important than their girlfriend or boyfriend.
As our kids get older, my wife and I slowly give them more freedom and responsibility. This includes how they spend their time with friends. When we first allowed them to “date”, we put restrictions on how often they could see their girlfriend or boyfriend, what types of activities they could do together, and so on. Some parents might think these kinds of restrictions are unnecessary but we, among other things, were concerned that our kids would end up spending most of their free time with their crush and completely neglect their other friendships.
What teenagers don’t yet have the experience and maturity to understand, is that a girlfriend/boyfriend is NOT their best friend. Let’s face it, most teenage romances come to an end and, in most cases, when the romance ends, so does the friendship.
It’s important to guard your heart
Teenagers have a tendency to exaggerate the depth of their feelings. Sometimes they “hate” their parents, they want to “die”, nobody understands or really knows them – you get the idea. Yes, there are definitely times when there could be very serious things a teenager is dealing with so I’m not suggesting we write off every emotional outburst as hormone-induced insanity. But we do need to keep things in perspective.
For the most part, these words are harmless expressions of strong feelings our teens are not sure how to process. So, we try to convey the importance of guarding their hearts. Just because they may be “in love” doesn’t mean they have to share every raw emotion with their girlfriend or boyfriend.
I’ve been around enough teenagers to have observed their tendency to bare their souls to their current “love.” Later, they often feel completely awkward, even embarrassed, that they shared so much once the relationship comes to an end.
It doesn’t mean I want my kids to bury their emotions or put up a wall with every person they meet. It isn’t about portraying a certain image either. A person can be “real” without opening up their soul to people they barely know. I want my kids to be discerning in how much they share and with whom. Close friendships develop over time and those are the friends that stay with you, warts and all.
Want to read more on teens and dating? Part 2 is coming next week! In the meantime, check out these articles: