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.
Keep your hands off
Many people believe that physical contact between two dating teens – even sex – is inevitable. In fact, a number of parents talk to their kids about “safe” sex because they simply believe that a physical relationship is a part of dating.
I’m not one of them.
I don’t expect everyone to share my beliefs. And while I take a strong stand on this because of my Christian faith, I believe there are many practical implications to consider when it comes to your child and sex, regardless of what you believe.
The most obvious implications of premarital sex are the risks of contracting STDs or an unwanted pregnancy.
It’s amazing to me how much we want to protect our kids from injury or illness but, when it comes to sex, we merely pay lip service to the health risks.
When I first graduated from university I worked as a pharmaceutical rep for a few years. My area of “expertise” was STDs. I routinely visited medical clinics on university campuses and heard the same story over and over again from the physicians. Physical pain and discomfort is usually only the beginning of a person’s concerns when they contract an STD. It becomes an embarrassing secret that can lead to feelings of humiliation, insecurity, and shame. I’m willing to bet, in almost every case, that young person knew the risks and decided that it couldn’t possibly happen to him or her.
There are other consequences to pre-marital sex, especially for teenagers. Sex introduces a whole new level of emotional intimacy. This kind of intimacy can lead to greater guilt, disappointments, misunderstandings and anger. There’s no denying it feels great, but it involves so much more than just the physical action – it’s hardly casual and carefree. Even for families who don’t have any moral or religious convictions when it comes to premarital sex, I would caution about opening our teens up to so much emotional baggage.
Because teenage sex poses a potential hazard to my children’s physical and emotional wellbeing, as a parent I clearly communicate those risks and hope that my kids ultimately make wise decisions when it comes to physical intimacy. I know it isn’t easy – I was a teenager once myself. I also know that it’s not inevitable or impossible.
Show respect – even if you break up
This principle is pretty straightforward: Show respect for your girlfriend/boyfriend, their parents, your own parents, and yourself. I may not be my kids’ biggest cheerleader when it comes to dating, but I do want them to treat their boyfriend or girlfriend well. This means being polite, courteous and kind. It means not pushing them to do anything they don’t want to do. I’m not just talking about the physical stuff – I’m also referring to the rules and expectations in their household. Don’t put him or her into a position where they might have to break a rule or cause tension with parents.
I also want my son and daughter to have respect for themselves. In other words, I don’t want them to put up with a relationship in which they aren’t respected. This could include manipulation or being treated poorly, a boyfriend or girlfriend being overly demanding, or making them choose between the relationship or other friends and family. I don’t want my kids to deal with that kind of tension and they should feel secure enough to break things off instead of putting up with it.
Finally, it’s important for my kids to show respect after – especially after – a break-up. It’s relatively easy to exhibit the very best behaviour when you’re “in love”, but things can get ugly, particularly if the break up was not amicable (and teenage break-ups rarely are).
Having respect for an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend doesn’t mean being friends, but it does mean that I want my kids to keep themselves from gossiping (even when they’re angry or hurt) and sharing private details about their relationship or their former girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s life.
Now let me tell you how easy it has been to teach and instill these principles in my kids: It hasn’t.
I realize that not every teenager is “typical” and so I’m writing about the kinds of mindsets, challenges, and attitudes that teenagers experience in general. So far, things have gone pretty well, but not without the occasional argument and tense moment. I’m not claiming that I have all the right answers or some magic formula. There’s absolutely no guarantee that my teens will take any of these things to heart and I know better then to pound them with it every chance I get. If I even hope to keep the lines of communication open, especially when it comes to their “love” life, I need to avoid being condescending or judgmental – even when I know my kids are just plain wrong. Does that mean I never try and set them straight? Of course I do, but I try to pick my spots. If I sense that my son or daughter is simply not of a mind to listen, much less reflect on my guidance, I’ll wait for a better opportunity.
Trust me, they come. And the better I get at reading their moods and responding appropriately, the more often they’ll open up and actually seek my guidance.