It’s bound to happen eventually. Your son or daughter has a boy/girlfriend. You’re happy for them, but you feel trepidation too. What does it mean for them to have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
Answer: It really depends.
Some dating relationships are more like a special friendship. It’s someone your adolescent texts more often than other friends. They might sit near each other at lunch, and they have an automatic date to dances. It’s pretty innocent. This kind of dating is every parent’s dream!
For some teenagers having a boyfriend or girlfriend means becoming sexually active. The best predictor of this is how their friends behave. If you know your teenager’s friends “hook-up” [For teens these days this term implies anything ranging from kissing to having intercourse] with people at parties, and those that are in stable relationships are having sex, then your adolescent probably thinks that’s what’s expected of him or her too. It is really difficult for teens to go against the grain of their friends, even in something that should be a personal decision.
I’ve been counseling teenagers now for a little over ten years. The collective experience of Teen Therapy OC counselors is 28 years. One thing we all readily agree on is that less is more when it comes to teen dating. We feel convinced that once teenagers become sexually active with a boyfriend or girlfriend the relationship moves to an intensity an adolescent is rarely mature enough to handle. We also believe adolescent relationships that include a lot of time with friends tend to keep teens happier. In other words, if your teenager no longer spends time with his or her friend group, it’s a red flag that things are too serious.
Parents, be careful not to lose your authority when your teen is dating. You’re still older, wiser and in charge. Your job isn’t to be liked, but to guide and protect. The more you embrace the person your teen is dating, the less your teenager has to be sneaky. However, some basic rules can really help the situation:
- Don’t let your teenager be in his or her bedroom with their boy/girlfriend, even with the door open. They should be out in the family room.
- Hands out when they are sharing a blanket on the couch.
- Make sure their boyfriend/girlfriend always comes to the door if they are taking your teenager out. YOU should be answering the door, not your adolescent.
- Include your teenager’s boy/girlfriend in your family activities sometimes. You want to make sure you have a lot of conversations with this person too. For a time they will be a big influence on your child’s character, so let’s know the person with the influence.
- Always take your child’s side. Some parents aren’t supportive of their own teenager when there is an argument. This is hurtful to your child. If his or her behavior was wrong, it’s still best to tell your teen you’ll be here for him or her even though he/she messed up.
- Monitor the conversations occurring on text, Snapchat and Instagram. These conversations can become too intense; it has become commonplace for one teen to ask another for naked photos. While we know that’s wildly inappropriate, teens are used to it. They aren’t even appalled by the question!
You’re navigating new waters as a parent. It wasn’t too many years ago that you were an adolescent enjoying the attention of your first boy/girlfriend. You were hoping for opportunities to be alone with that person, and trying to balance what you were comfortable with and where to draw the line. If you were anything like me, you didn’t actually have the maturity to do this, and made some mistakes you’d take back if you could. Your child doesn’t have the maturity yet either. Though he/she might look like a young adult, an adolescent brain is still forming. Your teenager needs your input as he/she dates!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT