How to Cope With Your Teen’s First Romance
Plus: Warning signs of a toxic relationship
Remember when you first fell in love as a teen? The sweaty palms. The butterflies. The time spent finding the perfect outfit for a date, or the hours in front of the mirror styling your hair just so. Yes, falling in love is a rite of passage, but for parents, it can be difficult to manage the ups and downs of teen love. How can you help your child navigate these relationships? When should you take a hands-off approach and when should you intervene?
Parents might be quick to point out all of the negative aspects of teen romance, but it’s important to stay positive, says Kate McNeill-Paquin, an Apex-based family coach. “Love can be such a strong emotion, and new love is like nothing they have ever felt. Helping them to see the positives in themselves and their life regardless of this new love will help them stay in balance,” she says.
Instead of complaining that you don’t see your teen as often or that he is always on his phone, understand that your teen will be very protective of this new love.
But what if you don’t really like your child’s significant other?
“You don’t have to like them,” McNeill-Paquin says. “You are not dating them.”
Jonathan Hetterly, a licensed professional counselor with Southeast Psych in Charlotte, advises parents to remember that they are teenagers. “They are not supposed to be mature or view relationships from an adult perspective,” he says. “Most of what they’re experiencing is new to them and can be tremendously awkward. Give everybody a little bit of grace. No one is a finished product.”
It’s also important to be empathetic, according to Hetterly. “Whatever criticisms or worries you have, attach it to behaviors,” Hetterly says. “Don’t condemn a person. Behaviors are things people can change. When you condemn a person, you’re attaching their character and inherent worth.”
Be Available and Take a Passive Approach
The best way you can support your teen is by simply be available. Know that if you’ve had a supportive and open relationship with your teen, then she is more likely to be open to parental guidance. But if you have a history of being too controlling and overbearing, your teen might be reluctant to keep the lines of communication open.
“Don’t assume they need guidance,” Hetterly says. “Be available. Be a sideline consultant. But don’t automatically insert yourself into the situation. It is their life. Honor their autonomy and new experiences.”
As you notice their relationship growing, make sure your child knows you are there for them, but take a passive role. Asking a ton of questions will cause them to retreat.
Make sure your teen knows they can talk to you, especially about sex. “You want them to know they can talk to you without reaction, meaning they can tell you what is going on and you will listen and help without getting angry,” McNeill-Paquin says.
“An available parent has the opportunity to be sought out and seen as supportive,” Hetterly adds. “The second biggest variable is listening. Listening well is more important and speaking when it comes to communication with teenagers.”
As your teen gains independence and his own relationships outside of the family, it’s important to establish boundaries. Simply put? Don’t get overinvolved. For example, you might want to think twice before following your teen’s partner on social media.
“Would you be friends or have a relationship with this person without your child’s involvement? If the answer is no, then I don’t follow or interact on social media,” McNeill-Paquin says.
The same goes for text messages. McNeill-Paquin says it’s fine to respond to texts you might receive from your teen’s partner, but you shouldn’t initiate them.
Coping With Breakups
Just like falling in love, having your heart broken is also a rite of passage. How can you help your child through this?
“The best thing to do is follow their lead,” McNeill-Paquin says. “If they are in denial don’t try to push it. They will come to it on their own time.” And remember to be patient. “If they want to cry, you let them cry. Never say anything bad about the person, because teen relationships usually go through two or three breakups before the relationship is actually over. Listen, and say very little.”
Myra Wright is a North Carolina-based freelance writer and former publisher of Piedmont Parent. As a mom of three kids (ages 11, 16, and 19), she frequently writes about parenting and teens.
Warning Signs of a Toxic Relationship
While parents should generally follow a hands-off approach with teen romance, there are times when intervention is necessary. If you believe your child is engaged in an unhealthy or toxic relationship, look for these warning signs:
* Relationships outside of the toxic relationship start to suffer
* A separation from an activity or friends that have meaning to your child
* Your child experiences more dread and unhappiness than happiness and positive anticipation toward their significant other
* Saying no to a partner’s request is met with hostility, accusations, or emotional manipulation
* Verbal, emotional, or physical abuse
* Lack of privacy, trust, and personal space
* Blaming other people for one’s own emotions
* Paranoia and lack of trust
* Belittling and hypercriticism
* Major changes in behavior or self-esteem
* Nervousness when they cannot text or reach the other party
* Anger and sleep issues
* Inability to make decisions without that person’s approval
Sources: Jonathan Hetterly and Kate McNeill-Paquin