Teen Love: How To Deal With It

Teen love is natural. As parents, ensure that your protective instinct doesn’t interfere with the way you deal with your teenager and her relationships. Learn how to handle such sensitive situations.

By Arundhati Swamy

Teen Love: How To Deal With It

The recent shocking news of a 15-year-old and her 19-year-old boyfriend murdering the girl’s father in Bangalore, has got everyone talking and discussing about adolescence and parenting. The duo claim that they resorted to the crime, because the father disapproved their romantic relationship. Apparently, her dad had belted her and confiscated her phone, when he became aware of their closeness. The girl allegedly felt that she wanted her freedom back, and thus she and her boyfriend plotted to murder her father and subsequently executed the act.

While this is an extreme case, it’s not the first one of its kind that has come to light. From time to time, there have been other media reports of similar gruesome crimes for similar reasons.

However, the recent news in Bangalore has sparked an open discussion on digital platforms and neighbourhood gossip, around the topic of romantic relationships among adolescents and how parents struggle to deal and cope with it. 

In fact, we often hear of parents handling 'young love' in ways that don’t really help the situation but worsen it. Hence, we need to understand that our children are growing up and learn how to work with them. And teen love is natural and a part of this growing up. 

You can start by asking yourself how old you were when you had your first crush? Your child is unlikely to be different. And you might think that your teen is too young to know how to handle being in love, which is true, but that’s why it’s important for you to understand and work along with your teen. 

Here is how you can show your teen that you are on her team:

Say NO to 'parents vs teenagers' and Say YES to 'parents + teenagers = family'

The relationship that a parent and teenager share, often turn into a 'parent vs teenager' one, and therein lies the crux of the whole problem. Here’s what happens when we see our teens as adversaries when things go ‘wrong’:

  • Thoughts centre around it being the child’s fault. We think things like “how could this have happened, how dare she do something like this”; “what will people say”; “this is not how we have raised you”; “you are spoiling our family name.” and so on.
  • These thoughts lead to feelings of anger, shock, even shame and guilt.
  • These feelings and emotions lead to irate behaviour such as imposing immediate controls on the child by using punishments, e.g. confiscations, bans and restrictions.
  • This kind of behaviour leads to a breakdown in the parent-child relationship, leaving behind an angry parent and a helpless child.

How to deal with teen love

It’s very unfortunate that these are the reactions of many parents, that too at a time when a teen needs a supportive and understanding parent more than ever.

So, here’s how you can learn to accept, understand and communicate with your child in ‘teen love’ situations. 

1. ACCEPT and not deny teenage relationships

It is so difficult for parents to come to terms with the reality of this situation and accept it. After the initial shock and possible denial of the situation, you must take time to: 

  • Seek support for the experience and the emotional pain.
  • Take time to do things that help calm your disturbed emotions so that can think clearly.
  • Sort out your differing opinions, if any, with your partner or spouse, to enable a united front before your child.
  • Choose to approach the matter with the sole purpose of helping your child.
  • Reach out to your distressed child with empathy and compassion, and be understanding towards her.
  • Let her know that as a family, you are all on the same side, and that together you can sort things out.  

2. UNDERSTAND your teen’s feelings

As parents, you we must make efforts to learn about the changes that occur during puberty. We are familiar with the physical changes but not too familiar about the very crucial social and emotional changes. You can learn how to understand your teen’s feelings and emotions.

As a result of significant changes happening in the brain of your teen, he experiences heightened emotions, seeks acceptance and belonging among friends, searches for new experiences and explores his individuality through his thoughts and ideas. The drive to discover self and to create a unique identity, becomes an important preoccupation for teens.

Childhood dependence on parents soon give way to a search for freedom and independence during the teen years. While you need to take a step back, you must continue to build your relationship with your teen and strengthen the bond you both share. You can do this by:

  • understanding that your teen still needs you, though in different ways.
  • understanding your teen’s swiftly changing moods and outbursts are mostly not about you, but because of hormonal changes that occur during puberty, so don’t take it personally.
  • continuing to show interest in your teen but in less direct and intrusive ways. A teen is no longer the typical child who shares anything and everything with you. She welcomes respect for her privacy.
  • continuing to be there for her when she needs you. She will let you know when and why; or your keen and quiet observations will alert you to when she needs you around. When that time comes, express your concern, that you notice something may be bothering her and ask if she would like to talk to you about it.

3. COMMUNICATE with your teen about love and relationships

Uncomfortable as you may be about love and relationships, you must make the effort to step out of your comfort zone as a parent. Teens require their parents to be open-minded. This way it helps them to listen more willingly to their parents’ concerns and creates an emotionally safe space for discussion, sharing and problem solving.

Communication revolves around choice of words, tone of voice, body language, listening to understand, respect for each other, a willingness to apologise, and setting aside biases.

Not all parents feel confident to bring up the topic of love and romantic relationships with their children. Even so, it’s best to make the effort, else children may be influenced by the media and the opinions of their peers.

It’s easier to talk about these sensitive topics in a general context. There are enough stories available in the media and in real life. Use them to open discussions, ask your teen for opinions, thoughts and ideas about a story. Encourage open debates and avoid the arguments.

The exchange of ideas on love and relationships offer teens many perspectives. They can use these perspectives to make important decisions for themselves. Parents must therefore facilitate open conversations, reserve judgements and be able to express their views without imposing them, as well as listen intently to their teen’s views. 

15 tips for parents to deal with teenage love and relationships

  • Avoid harsh punishments as they only serve to make the child even less connected with you and more dependent on the romantic relationship for comfort.
  • Encourage your teen to move in mixed friend groups of boys and girls.
  • Talk to your teen about infatuation, romance, sexual attraction and awakening. Or have a counsellor guide you and have joint discussions with you and your child.
  • Get to know your child’s friends, invite them to your home often, and spend time to get to know them.
  • Define clear boundaries of behaviour for your child. Make your expectations clear and emphasise your family values.
  • Set clear rules about outings with friends – who he is going out with, where to and most importantly when he will return. Allow your child to negotiate fairly with you. Clearly state the non-negotiable rules.
  • Be firm in enforcing the consequences of breaking rules. In fact, let your child decide on the consequences she will have to face if she breaks them. It might be tough to do so, but absolutely necessary to keep your child within safe limits.
  • Talk to your child when you find him getting close to a particular friend and ask about what draws them to each other. Encourage him to continue the friendship within a larger group of friends.
  • Encourage your child to pursue an interest, hobby or passion, instead of trying to break the friendship. She can derive similar feelings of self-esteem and importance by engaging in activities, and therefore less dependent on a romantic relationship. For if your child does get into a romantic relationship, telling her to stop will not work. As most likely the relationship probably makes her feel special, and even boosts her self-esteem. Instead divert her attention and get her engrossed in an activity she enjoys.
  • Maintain a trusting and warm relationship with your child, as then it leaves little room for lies and sneaky plans. In fact, a strong parent-child relationship meets the child’s need for unconditional acceptance, attention, recognition and appreciation. If these needs are not met at home, the child will easily respond to anyone else who may make him feel wanted and important.
  • Prepare her to face varied unforeseen events and situations – have role-plays at home, describe scenarios and ask her what she would do if she were in those predicaments. Guide her with information and different points of view. For remember that you have no control over your child when she is on her own out there. It’s her ‘inner controls’ that will help her to make better decisions for herself, when you are not around to do that for her.
  • Avoid judging and condemning her friends who are in a romantic relationship. It does not necessarily mean that your child will do the same. However, let your child know that she can talk to you freely about such relationships. It gives her the confidence to confide in you.
  • Teach your child about self-respect and her right to be respected; and why it’s important to pull away from a disrespectful friendship or relationship.
  • Expect a few mistakes, when you give freedom with limits. Be forgiving. Also, help him learn what he could do differently, or not do in similar situations.
  • Be aware of your own ideologies and how they influence your thinking. Be informed by them, but also realise that they can prevent you from being open-minded and objective in discussions.

Changes in adolescence are a natural process of a child's growth and development. They have a purpose, but we need to view this stage as a time of opportunities to be able to see that purpose more clearly – to get to know and understand oneself, likes and dislikes, what ideas are exciting, forming individual opinions based upon a deeper understanding of self. 

Your child is going through a period of intense self-discovery and you must facilitate that process in the best way you can. A belief that parenting an adolescent is only tough and challenging, simply robs you of your ability to support your teen child. Take heed!

About the expert:

Written by Arundhati Swamy on 20 August 2019.

Arundhati Swamy is a family counsellor and Head of the Parent Engagement Program at ParentCircle. 

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