Parents often dread the day their sons or daughters start developing romantic feelings. But it’s a part of normal adolescent development, says CHOC pediatric psychologist Chris Min, PhD.
Beginning in the pre-adolescent stage – around ages 11 and 12 – kids start to hang out in mixed groups. A year or two later, friendships can evolve into romantic relationships.
While this is normal, teen romance is not without its ups and downs. Parents can prepare their kids for healthy relationships by following these tips from Dr. Min.
- A teen brain is not a fully developed brain; hence, the impulsive behavior. Teenagers don’t always consider the consequences of their actions, so parents need to guide them. This starts by creating an open atmosphere at home. While adults might see teen break-ups as inevitable and minimize their impact, they can be devastating to adolescents who have little life experience to draw from. Dr. Min encourages parents to be active listeners, and stresses the importance of sharing life experiences.
- Parents shouldn’t always wait for teens to come to them. It can be a good idea for mom and dad to have an open and inviting discussion with teens when they notice changes in behavior, such as frequent texts to the same boy. Parents should never embarrass their children about a new love interest, but should definitely take note and keep track of the relationship.
- It’s important for teens to maintain healthy coping mechanisms, which can include support from friends and participation in a variety of activities. Parents need to make sure that a new relationship does not isolate their kids in any way. Teens can survive break ups much easier when they have coping mechanisms in place, from friends and family members to sports, for example.
- When it comes to dating, parents should provide the appropriate level of freedom and privacy. This is often determined by their teen’s maturity level and past track record. Parents shouldn’t hesitate to change the rules if their trust has been broken.
- It is strongly recommended that parents monitor their teens’ social media activities – monitoring sites and online conversations, in addition to educating them on appropriate use. Many teens fall victim to the social pressures of sharing inappropriate and personal images/texts over social media, creating an aftermath of hurt and shame.
- Role modeling is particularly impactful when it comes to learning about healthy relationships. Teens observe interactions between their parents, so it’s important to be mindful of the model that parents set for their teens.
Young love, from innocent kisses to first dates, is a teenage rite of passage. By providing an environment of open communications and establishing trust, parents can help their teens enjoy an exciting time in their adolescent lives.
Dr. Christopher Min is a pediatric psychologist at CHOC. He received his graduate degree at University of Maryland Baltimore County and completed both his predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship at CHOC Hospital. His areas of interest include inpatient psychological consultation/liaison services, behavioral sleep medicine, and issues in adolescent development and treatment.