Right around Valentine’s Day, parents always crush me with questions about their son’s or daughter’s first romantic relationship. Take heart, and let me provide some information on this heartfelt topic.
Has your pre-teen or teen developed a crush or early romantic interest in someone? If so, it’s time to communicate the family values of respect for others and their bodies. Establishing that sense of respect should be a guide for your child to find someone who also appreciates those values.
If you notice that your older child or teen has that romantic spark in their eyes, be positive about it. Say things like, “This must be a special person,” rather than “You are too young to be dating.” This is a smart approach if you want to stay in the communication loop with your teen. Share stories of your early relationships, including what worked and did not rather than lecture your teen. This will also keep the lines of communication wide open.
Set ground rules for going out before the going-out gets going. Discuss how often your child can go out and whether that happens in a group or just as a couple. This is often dependent on the age and maturity of your teenager.
Create limits for phone conversations and texting time. Make sure you insist that before your teen goes out on a date, you are told where they are going. You should also know who will be with them and when to expect them back. Having a standing curfew time can be helpful.
Talk about proper manners and social behavior for going out that first time. Answer any questions that come up, from tipping to who pays for what, to that first kiss. Listening is critical. Offer cellphone access in case your child gets into an uncertain or even uncomfortable situation they might regret.
Parents, remember this: First romances rarely, if ever, lead to a more permanent relationship. As you know, breakups and heartache will occur. So be available, non-judgmental and supportive, and keep those communication lines open. If and when the breakup occurs, your child will certainly need you.
Hopefully, tips like these keep you steady when it comes to helping your younger teen deal with that first relationship.
Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.