Teenagers don’t have a clue about love. And, unfortunately, the models they have for love in our culture focus mostly on infatuation, romance and sex. For teens to learn how to love fully and realistically, they need to practice being in love. They are going to need help in recognizing it and giving it room to grow.
What’s a parent to do?
Love. To start with, it will help if you are able to describe a couple of important aspects of love. Unfortunately, love is notoriously difficult to define. Some of the more common elements include:
- Tender feelings of affection
- An ache in your heart at the thought of another
- A desire to do for and for whom you want the best
- Someone whose happiness will make you happy
- The fluttering, nervous, queasy feeling at the thought of another
- Selfless consideration of another’s feelings and needs
- Warm, positive feeling that happens at the thought of another
Talk to your teen about the feeling part of love gives them a vocabulary to use and a way to put into words the feelings they are experiencing (and what they should be looking out for).
Young Love. But love looks different in teens. While they are quite capable of the strength of feeling associated with love, young love includes an element of growth and learning about themselves and their partner. It is probably more accurate to think of young love as encompassing:
- Practicing intimacy
- Giving your heart
- Taking chances
- Imagining possibilities
- Pursuing a dream
- Experiencing something pure
- Learning personal boundaries
Intimacy. Another term that is importnat in talking to your teen about love is that of intimacy. It is bound up with love, it can deepen love but intimacy can be experienced even in the absence of loving feelings. Intimacy usually involves:
- Sharing emotions freely
- Orientating toward & valuing closeness
- Tolerating & embracing intense emotions
- Self disclosure
- Mutual reciprocity
- Sensitivity to others feelings
Lust. There is another human experience that can get all mixed up with love. It is the strong, physical, sexual attraction toward another person. Lust is marked by desire for erotic contact and sexual intercourse. It is a wonderful, powerful and problematic human desire.
Romantic love. And finally there is romantic love. This represents that intense attraction that involves the idealization of the other within a romantic context with the expectation of enduring for some time in the future (Jankowiak & Fischer, 1994). This is love, young love and intimacy all rolled up into one.
Now that we have defined a few terms, we will review how to talk to your teen about love and dating in part 2 of this post.