Once you have given some thought to what is meant by love, young love, intimacy, lust and romantic love (see previous column) you are ready (?) to you use that information to help your kid have a better understanding of love in the context of intimate teenage relationships
Let’s start with the kinds of strategies for talking to a teen who is young or relatively inexperienced at young love.
Innocent questioning. Love and emotional intimacy is a very personal thing for your kid (for everyone, really). Wade gently into the topic. It may be difficult for teens to let themselves really acknowledge their interest or infatuation; let along admit it directly. Start with questions that are indirect and offered tentatively so that you let your kid know you appreciate the delicacy of the subject. “How do you feel about her?” “He seems like a nice guy?” “Do you have any feelings toward him?” “Does he seem to have potential?” It is a good idea to question gently even if your kid seems like they are perfectly comfortable talking about things. It may be just a blustering façade.
Speaking hypothetically. There is a way of talking to your kid that makes it clear what you are saying without requiring them to respond. It involves making comments, sharing thoughts or telling stories to validate and encourage. This can be done through
- Convenient memories. “I remember being terrified about the first person I really liked.” “I don’t think I could even really LOOK at girls when I was your age.” “It was so weird when this guy I liked looked at me and I literally couldn’t breathe.”
- Family stories. “Your grandfather had to keep after your grandmother for YEARS before she agreed to go out with him.” “Your Uncle Jeff was such a nerdy geek and yet he ended up with your Aunt Lisa. Anything is possible in this world.”
- Myths, books, movies. Find movies or stories that provide a good model for young love. Work them into family movie night. A few that have present young love in a good light include: A Little Romance, Now and Then, Charlie St. Cloud, Everafter, Here on Earth, Little Darlings, My Girl, Say Anything, A Walk to Remember.
Follow their lead. Be careful about getting too far ahead of your kid. While it may be perfectly obvious that they have strong feelings for someone, that doesn’t mean they have admitted it to themselves or are ready to acknowledge it to others, even you. So, go at their pace in talking about the person and their feelings for that person. “Hmm. She’s cute.” “He seems like a nice boy?”
Listen, listen, listen. Kids need to figure out what they think and what they feel about most things, especially about love. Make sure you are an excellent listener. No problem solving. No unsolicited suggestions as to what they could do. Just listen.
Encourage love. Teens need to fall in love. They need to practice being in love. They need to have some experience being in a loving relationship. But it is scary and young love often gets discounted. Talk to your kid about the importance of looking for love and being in love. Make sure they know how wonderful it can be (as opposed to helping save them from heartbreak by trying to talk them out of being in love). They need to know that love is love, whatever age.
Celebrate feelings. Use positive, encouraging language to identify feeling love, passion, desire, joy and excitement. Kids can be tentative, shy or even embarrassed by their feelings of love and tenderness (especially boys). Give them the words to use. Model how they should be feeling by being excited and happy for them. “It’s GREAT that you have found someone to really like.” “It is wonderful to feel that strongly about someone.” “I am happy that you are brave enough to let yourself feel that strongly for someone.” “Falling for someone is really exciting and scary at the same time.” “Love is a wonderful thing to experience.” “I’m glad you have found someone worth liking this much.” “It’s cool when you are so powerfully attracted to someone.”
Recognize responsibility. Being in love brings with it a host of responsibilities (unlike how it is portrayed in the media and in movies). Your kid needs to know the responsibilities that accompany loving someone. There are responsibilities they have to themselves to be true to their feelings, to be honest with themselves, to be faithful to their values and to respect their own personal limits of comfort. Teenagers also have responsibilities to their beloved to be honest about their feelings, true to their commitments, protective of their beloved’s feelings and respectful of their limits. Teens are responsible for the decisions and choices they make and the risks they take; some of which can bind them together for life. Finally, teens are also responsible for treating an ex-love well in honor of the love they shared.
Relieve pressures. Teenagers in love are susceptible to pressures from many different directions. They are pressured by their own desires and passions. They are pressured by social expectations. They are pressured by the desires and demands of their beloved. They are pressured by the media and the culture. There are a number of ways you can help relieve some of these pressures. Developing an open dialogue with your kid provides them with a place to talk through struggles and difficulties. Another way to relieve pressure is to make sure you set some limits on your kid’s behavior to restrain enthusiasm and the tendency toward a headlong rush into fateful decisions of the moment. You can also help relieve pressure by making sure your kid is aware of potential pressures and develop strategies to deal with them.
Comfort and reassure. Love is confusing and overwhelming. It is intense and powerful. Make sure you take the opportunity to give your kid solace and hope during the rough patches and insecure moments. You are in an ideal position to foster a sense of hope and promise; either about things getting better or there being another opportunity for love in their future (even though it doesn’t always seem like it).
Next week: Talking about Teen Love, part 3