I’m sure that your first love felt as real and precious as the love in any fairy tale. Parents owe their teens respect and dignity when love first blooms, but it’s our job to keep kids safe and rational, too. How do you manage to do both? Consider these ten tips for parents whose teens are in love—and aren’t they all?
1. First love is real to the couple involved. Their worlds revolve around each other, but those teens aren’t adults. Meet the boyfriend or girlfriend as soon as you can and have a nice chat. Who exactly is this kid, and how carefully will you need to supervise the budding relationship?
2. They feel deeply connected, and are sure that this is forever. It probably isn’t, but act as if. Include your teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend in family activities when it’s appropriate. Movie night? Invite them along. Offer helpful suggestions about dating, restaurant etiquette, tipping, and stuff kids aren’t just born knowing.
3. Keep your point-of-view light but vigilant. You aren’t your son or daughter’s best friend. Be an understanding listener, but be an adult—a trusted mentor, an authority figure, and a source of comfort. Keep your perspective and your sense of humor.
4. Set non-negotiable boundaries and reasonable curfews. Know where the little darling is at all times. If there’s a party, find out who’s hosting and phone those parents in advance. Your teen may balk, but be consistent.
5. No teasing. You require their respect; they’ll appreciate yours. Build self-esteem and self-confidence.
6. If you haven’t, talk seriously and openly about sex, love, and the differences. Share your beliefs and values. Keep a sharp eye open for signs of pressure or abuse from the new sweetheart—it happens. Let your teen know what she doesn’t have to tolerate in a relationship.
7. Where do you stand on birth control? Emphasize abstinence and reasons it’s a good choice, but experts encourage helping teens acquire condoms or pills. Ask your family doctor’s help.
8. Allow parties and activities at home. Provide food, safe beverages, and supervised privacy. Tolerate the music. My husband and I raised six teens, and we felt secure knowing that kids liked to hang at our place.
9. Encourage your teen to come to you for help. He had beer with friends and needs a ride home? Provide it, no lecture, no punishment. Handle discipline in a day or two when he’s safe and you’re calm. She’s gone farther than she should with her boyfriend? No recriminations, no temper from you. Get whatever help she needs. Stand by her. It’s a tall order, but talk out feelings later, calmly.
10. When the breakup comes, it’s as serious as a divorce. Provide comfort and support. The romance may not last long enough for the first corsage to wilt, but the breakup can affect all of your teen’s future relationships.
Having gotten a son or daughter to their teen years, you know a lot about parenting. Trust your instincts and the foundation you’ve provided. Let your teen know your love is unconditional. Forgive your child and yourself for missteps. The best parenting advice I ever got goes like this: Sometimes, they grow up in spite of us, not because of us.