The door to teenage relationships opens at various times depending upon many factors, especially personality traits. Once it is open however, the results can vary between the growth of a child’s compassion and empathy to unhealthy absorption and dependency.
Personality traits play a large role in determining whether things tilt more toward a healthy or unhealthy direction. Some kids become quickly submerged under the weight of intense and unfamiliar feelings, making it difficult for them to establish boundaries, protect priorities, and assert themselves. Fearing disappointments or rejection, and craving reassurance, a child may implicitly allow their boyfriend or girlfriend to wield too much control over their brittle emotions. This situation leads to a host of self-defeating behaviors at home and school. Wide mood swings, the avoidance of responsibilities, and angry withdrawal may signal that an unhealthy attachment is growing in your child’s relationship.
One vital parenting goal is to make it as comfortable as possible for your children to discuss awkward subjects with you. Your initial approach to this subject can pave the way for success or failure in establishing a safe and trusting dialogue about such issues. Avoid lecturing, judging, or accusing, as this will only lead to stilted, monosyllabic answers. Offer nonthreatening observations, such as, “I notice how upset you seem,” or, “Seems like you’re changing your usual routine,” rather than direct opinions about your children’s behavior. Remember, children can often be sensitive about the subjects, so don’t offer yourself up as a target of their frustration.
Gently express your concerns about the impact you observed. After building a safe dialogue, praise your children for opening up to you. Emphasize how all of us need to step outside of our strong feelings to reflect upon recent behaviors. By doing this, we can mature into more thoughtful and reflective, rather than reactive, people. New friendships may impact them in ways they may not realize. One responsibility of parents is to help their kids become more aware of how they are managing changes in their lives, and the stresses that come with those changes. Assure them that you are on their side and want to help them to balance the many priorities in their lives.
If you have a chance, educate rather than interrogate. If you sense that your children are receptive to talking, suggest to them that opposite-sex relationships will teach them a lot about the world of interacting with others. Understanding emotions, tuning into others’ emotions, and expressing feelings are some lifelong lessons. Suggest that the feelings between people can become strong and even overwhelming at times. One way in which to manage this intensity is to talk it out with a more experienced and trusted person, such as a parent. Once the issues begin to be discussed, the feelings can lessen, and clear perspectives can emerge.