Dreamy, glazed looks, lost in thought, butterflies in the stomach…..whoa, the ‘crush’ bug has struck…and how. Goodbye kiddo, hello life! Yes, your little one is growing up, whether you like it or not. Welcome to the world of teens. The process of self-discovery has begun and there is no stopping it. It has to run its natural course and play a part in the drama of life. The crush bug is relentless in its pursuit, stalking the unexpected, aiming its cupid bow at the most unsuspecting victim, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic, unnerving but ever so exciting.
So what exactly is a ‘CRUSH’? The onset of puberty is the precursor to a series of bio-psycho-social-intellectual changes. A crush or infatuation is that first flush of a strange new feeling, undefined and inexplicable. It is nature’s way of telling us that all is well with the natural processes of growing up. The new uncertain feelings are an important milestone of puberty, bringing in their wake a series of emotional changes. Primary among them is the gradual awareness of an interest in the opposite sex, and that cannot be a bad thing, since we want our children to enter into long lasting relationships as adults in the future.
A crush is typically a one-way feeling. The other person is mostly unaware that someone is attracted to him. It can be entertained and enjoyed in the privacy of the mind. What makes the feeling difficult is the add-on guilt accompanying it. Established norms of social behavior do not favour `crushes’.
The safe thing about a crush is that it is usually short-lived, and this is precisely why we need not worry about it. Till the next one occurs! However, things can get complicated and confusing when teens realise that they can be attracted to different people at the same time! Now we are talking about multiple crushes!!
Is it time to hit the panic button? Not at all, because they are simply starting to understand and acknowledge different attributes and characteristics that interest them. Usually the attraction for each person is for a different reason. They are testing their masculine and feminine social roles. They will define themselves and their world through their social roles. The crucial journey of discovery, of the self and of the others, has just begun.
Some teens tend to discuss their crush freely among peers, and this leads to teasing and pairing up of individuals. They may begin to believe that they are ‘in love’, when they are actually experiencing a harmless crush. Then, expectations get nurtured beyond bounds resulting in disappointment.
The cautious parent switches to an advisory mode, offering all kinds of messages such as -- “This is not the age for all this”, “concentrate on your studies”, “and do not waste time on unwanted things”. “But, I cannot help feeling this way,” is what the child thinks. Yes, because these changes are being determined by their natural hormonal cycle, over which they have no control.
The parent in denial says, “Such things don’t happen in our family”, leaving the child more confused. The liberal parent says, “Wow, can I meet him/her?”. The over-enthusiastic parent gets excited and discusses this with friends and family or teases the child, often causing embarrassment and resentment in the child. The latter feels that people are trespassing into its private space. The understanding parent supports the child through this dilemma, seizes the opportunity to explain the changes as a normal phenomenon of growing up and offers reassurance. Remember the time when you had your first crush!!
A mother deals with her teen’s crush in a cautious manner
When her 16-year-old daughter confided in her about her crush, Vidya’s first thought was: “I am glad she had the confidence to tell me about it. It was heart-warming to know she believed that I would react judiciously.” Vidya was upset despite being mentally prepared. She knew that her daughter was facing the pressure of being called a ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’, since all her friends had boyfriends.
Vidya decided not to reveal her anger. “I realised that if I show my anger she might not confide in me any more. She is always angry with my husband and refuses to talk to him because he is strict with her on this issue,” she says. However, Vidya did lay down some rules. The boy had to come home to meet them and her daughter could not go out with him on her own.
Though Vidya was not impressed with her daughter’s choice, she accepted it. Her daughter did break the rule a couple of times about meeting her ‘crush’ alone. `` But one cannot lock up one’s daughter. Instead, I just explained to her that she was not experienced enough to know what was good or bad for her. Going out alone with him was just not acceptable,” she says.
Luckily for Vidya, her daughter slowly outgrew her crush. “She realised that he was lying to her and stopped seeing him. I believe a crush is an emotion that comes with age. You have to deal with your teens in a cautious manner. They will always find a way out,” she says.
“It is all about negotiating”, she continues. “You have to convince them that you have taken two steps forward to meet them and you expect them to step back a bit,” she advises.
Tips to parents on how to handle teenage crushes
- Encourage teens to understand the changes.
- Help them develop a healthy attitude towards themselves and their peers. Nurture their self-worth.
- Their physical, mental, emotional and emerging sexual energies must be channelised into productive channels of healthy and creative activities.
- Teach them the value and security of moving in mixed groups, rather than isolating themselves with one particular boy or girl.
- Allow them to spend this phase of their life getting to know as many boys and girls. Let them learn what their own levels of comfort are with different types of people. Prepare them for their world.
- Stand back and give them all the support they need.
- Keep it light, do not overreact and get melodramatic
Arundhati Swamy holds a Masters degree in Social Work with specialisation in Family and Child Welfare from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is currently a Counselor for a number of leading schools in the city.