Your Child's "Firsts"

Being allowed to date
Okay, here's the biggie — your child's first emotional relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Although grade-schoolers often tease about having a boyfriend or girlfriend, kids as young as middle-school can develop very strong, loving feelings for another. Even though you, as the parent, suspect that this infatuation will only last for a few weeks, remember that to your child this relationship is going to last forever. Respect privacy on phone calls to a reasonable degree, and be sure to monitor activities. Especially with high-schoolers, it's important to set up house rules such as "no visitors in the house unless an adult is present and if the boyfriend or girlfriend is visiting, the kids must stay in a common area." I would discourage allowing them to visit in the bedroom, even with the door open.

 

I've always felts that it's better, safer and wiser to begin boy-girl activities in supervised groups. Both genders can have lots of fun at your home or a trusted friend's house, and the adults can relax knowing that the kids are being supervised. Gradeschoolers should not be allowed on dates — they are just too young, immature and have no business playing teenager. In 7th and 8th grades, though, many kids are allowed in groups of four (two boys, two girls) to go to movies or the mall, or to play games at the local arcade. If your child suggests this, it's best if you can be in attendance (although sitting at the rear of the theater or walking in the mall but discreetly checking out your favorite shops). I would continue to discourage anything but group dates at this age. When the kid hits high school, the rules seem to change. Ninth and tenth graders still go in groups, mainly because they need a parent to drive to the destination or an older sibling or friend will be doing the transporting. However, at about age 16, most kids are ready to begin some two-person dating activities. It's the wise parent who keeps the lines of communication comfortable and open, so that your son or daughter can come to you with concerns about their boyfriend or girlfriend's behavior or desires.

It's best to discourage teens who are dating from being alone in your home, or at any other house, when a parent is not around. Most likely nothing will happen, but you certainly don't want your place to be used as a hotel! Begin talking with your children even before they reach the dating years about house rules and what they can expect. Let them know that an adult must be present when the "couple" is in your home, whether it's for a half-hour "studying" after school or hanging around the pool during the summer days. Don't buy the excuse that the parents of your daughter's boyfriend "won't mind." In fact, that's kind of scary if you think about it. They should be concerned about letting their teenage son spend unsupervised time at his girlfriend's house. Now, this doesn't mean that the kids are not allowed privacy. Sure they are, but let's keep it reasonable. Encourage watching movies in the living, family or media rooms and give them some privacy and space. If allowed in the bedroom the door stays open and the lights are on. You don't need to be bothering them every minute, but wandering by occasionally tends to keep things on the up-and up and discourages necking or other inappropriate behavior. If the relationship endures the kids may eventually engage in intimate activities of some sort, but you don't have to make it easy for them!

 

If the relationship progresses, realize that there's a fine line between showing interest in your child's object of affection and stepping over the boundaries and snooping. Trust me; your kid will let you know if you've become too nosy! Most of all, get to know the other parents in order to establish a consistent line of communication so that the young couple has similar relationship rules at both homes. And, keep in mind that if you are not totally fond of your child's friend, don't be overly critical. Most likely the relationship will not last long and you don't want to be unreasonable or judgmental.

But, hand-in-hand with teen love comes teen heartbreak. Often the breakup is just a blip on the screen as your son or daughter moves on to their next interest, be it a sport activity, vacation, new friend or even a new "love." However, if this was the big one and her heart is really broken, be there for her. Listen, listen and listen some more. Try not to be judgmental by criticizing her ex. Remember, breakups are often tumultuous, moody times for youngsters and just as you've agreed that he's a real jerk, your kid may begin to like him again or to take offense at your criticism.

Expect your child to be moody, in need of talking with her girlfriends on the phone or instant messaging others on the Internet. These are activities that can help her to begin to resolve her feelings, to get over the hurt and to put feelings of rejection into better perspective. Try not to band-aid the situation by expecting an instant fix. Broken teen hearts often take a while to mend. You might want to consider trying to keep your child busy with interesting activities or functions if she seems inclined. Watch out for signs of depression (changes in eating, sleeping, studying habits) that continue for more than a few weeks. And, expect and respect her moodiness, letting her know that you understand her hurt but that you expect her to treat the rest of the family in a civil manner while the crisis resolves.

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