Your daughter’s first crush has thick bangs that cover his eyes and a brown belt in Aikido. Tweens and teens are often preoccupied with romance.
Enamored of his vegetarian lifestyle and Eastern interests, she’s talking tofu and downloading anime movies by the gigabyte. “Kids are starting to date earlier than most parents would like,” says relationship education advocate Lindsay Kriger, creator of the romance advice blog If Only I Knew.
Spending time with mixed-sex peer groups exposes kids to potential love interests and offers opportunities for flirtation.
Dating is an opportunity for adolescents to test out different identities, says research head Stephanie Madsen, Ph D.One month your teen may sport an athletic persona; the next, he’s turning your garage into a recording studio.His clothing and style choices may shift to please the latest would-be girlfriend.For parents, watching kids try on identities is a bit like watching bad comedy: Although the characters are awkward and unbelievable, it’s almost impossible to look away.First relationships are like a mirror: Kids see themselves as others see them and find out how their words and actions draw people closer or push them away.
Tweens and teens also learn about their values and goals, explore their feelings, and practice communication and commitment through dating, says teen life coach Melissa Kahn: “In some ways, teenage love is the purest, sweetest love of all — the kind that is about attraction and fun.” But that doesn’t mean young love is easy. Being admired and desired is exhilarating; getting disregarded or dumped can be crushing.
First relationships create a template teens use to understand future relationships: “Failed relationships can make teens feel inadequate, and those feelings of unworthiness may be carried around for a long time,” says Kriger.
Help kids learn what is appropriate in a healthy, loving partnership by taking a consulting role in tween or teen romance. “Romance can be a fun topic for parents and kids to bond over,” says Kahn.
“Take a listening role to hear what is on your child’s mind.
Also share your personal experiences with love, which a lot of kids are curious about.” Ask your child what qualities she looks for in a potential boyfriend and what she likes to do on a date.
“A teen who has talked through what she wants in a relationship is better prepared when important choices — like when to end things — present themselves,” says Kahn. “Fewer than half of high schoolers have had intercourse,” says Kahn.