There are so many firsts that you’ll get to experience with your teen — some that you’ll look forward to, and some that you might not. Your teen’s first boyfriend or girlfriend can fall into either bag. And if it falls in the second category, it can cause worry and angst.
But these firsts are all a rite of passage for your teen — both the positive and the not-so-positive ones.
For many teens, starting to date is a pivotal point for them — and for you — so it’s important to know how you’re going to handle this momentous time in both of your lives.
Here are 4 tips for navigating teen dating, and how to best support your teen.
1. Let Your Teen Know You’re Listening
You already know how important communication is when it comes to your teen’s dating, but sometimes that leads to a lot of talking on your part — and not a lot of listening.
You can certainly start a conversation. Asking a question or sharing your thoughts shows your teen that you care about what’s happening in their lives. But once you open that door, be patient and wait for them to come in.
Keep in mind that this is usually not a one-time conversation. Dating and love are topics that may come up regularly during adolescence.
Once you do get your teen talking about dating, listen to what they have to say. There are several ways to do this, including:
- Stopping whatever else you are doing and focusing on them.
- Letting them finish their thoughts without interrupting.
- Responding in ways that encourage them to continue talking. For example, you can say, “I’d like to hear more about that,” or “Why do you feel that way?”
- Hearing what they have to say, even if you don’t agree with it.
- Repeating what they’ve said to make sure you’re on the same page.
Most of the time, if you let your teen talk — really let them talk — they will. And you should be ready to listen when they do.
2. Talk About What Love Means
Love is a confusing concept for everyone — not just teens. It leads to unfamiliar hormones, emotions, and experiences.
It can also be hard to ignore the many examples of love that we see on a daily basis — in peers’ relationships, on social media, on television, and in movies. Talk to your teen about what a healthy relationship can look like, and what love means to them.
Talking about love with your teen might seem daunting, but it can help them work through what they’re feeling. Here are some things to remember when talking with your teen about love:
- Ask them how they are feeling, and encourage them to process their emotions.
- Talk about your own experiences — things you appreciate about love, hardships you’ve encountered, and things that you’ve learned.
- Don’t claim to be the expert. Let them try to understand what love means to them.
- Avoid diminishing their feelings. Their feelings are — rightfully — very real to them, and you should honor those as much as possible.
- Talk about the values and issues that come along with love like privacy, respect, and sex. Make sure your teen understands how to stay safe and when to say no.
3. Be the Best Parent You Can Be
Remind yourself often that parenting is hard — but so is being a teenager. You’re both working through this part of life, so you might as well do it together.
Keep the lines of communication open, set ground rules, and support your teen as they learn about dating.
Be on the lookout for signs of an unhealthy relationship, including:
- Unexpected anger
- Excessive jealousy
- Obsessive behaviors, like repeated calls, texts, and/or social media communication
- Withdrawal from activities and friends
- Unexplained injuries
As long as they aren’t in serious physical or psychological danger, don’t feel like you have to step in right away. But if you are concerned about your teen’s dating habits, talk to them. Explain that you’re concerned. If they deny any issues in their relationship, you may want to consult a health professional.
4. Be Ready for the Fallout
Some high school sweethearts end up together, but many don’t. Remember how tough young romances can be — adults might know that the feeling of heartbreak will eventually go away, but for a teen, the sadness can seem endless.
Be empathetic and sensitive, and give them the support they can only get from you.
You can help your teen work through heartache by:
- Acknowledging their pain and allowing them to feel sad. They’re hurting, and if you tell them their feelings are wrong, it may actually push them away.
- Telling them they will be happy again. They need to hear this — even though they might not believe you right away.
- Sharing your own experiences. It can help to hear that you’ve felt this way before.
- Encouraging them to get together with friends and get out of the house. However, don’t nag. Let them work through their feelings at their own pace.
Remember: Trust Is Key
As your teen starts dating, trust yourself — and your teen — as much as you can. Try not to add tension to the situation by being overly intrusive or too far removed. You know your teen best, so use that information to navigate this time in your lives.
Got questions about talking to your teen about dating? Your primary care provider may be a good place to start. Call (785) 270-4440 to set up an appointment with a Stormont Vail primary care provider.