Love and Parenting
Love: it can make your heart skip a beat, spawn butterflies in your stomach and has been called by some as the “ultimate drug”. We’ve seen it on TV, heard it lauded in songs and read about it in literature. Love has been described as a universal language and many people have no problem recalling their first experience with these feelings. But how do we talk to our teens about love?
In some ways, we already have. Our culture is rife with portrayals of what we should eat, how we should dress, what our bodies should look like and what our success should be defined by. Love is no different, whether one looks at the celebrity gossip column or today’s billboard toppers. Teenagers today have access to more information and viewpoints than any generation that has preceded them since the dawn of time. When I ask parents if they’ve talked to their teen about love, the response I typically get relates to talking to them about sex or abstinence. After all, this is THE TALK that many teens experience, whether it be from their parents or school or an older sibling or the internet. Our society, in general, seems to have this conversation covered.
The talk that seems to consistently be overlooked, however, is about love and relationships. It is, therefore, all the more important that parents are talking to their teens not simply about safe sex or abstinence; but about love. Even if you’ve had this conversation once, it is important to keep in mind that nobody can absorb all the necessary information in one sitting. Rather, keep this conversation as an ongoing dialogue instead of a single, formal let’s-sit-down-and-discuss type of interaction. Maybe you ask them how they define love over dinner, or see how they tell the difference between “like” and “love” while you’re in the car. Sometimes the conversation can be started by noticing that, for example, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert recently divorced. Using Hollywood gossip can be a great, casual way to bring this conversation up without appearing too formal or invasive.
In her book A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens, social worker and prominent family therapist Joani Geltman notes that “…you are the first generation of parents whose experiences as teens don’t match those of your kids’.” Geltman’s book covers a wide range of topics, from substance use to sex to love to defiance and describes intelligent, heartfelt solutions to many of these challenging issues. I strongly recommend her book for any parent that wants to gain a better understanding of their teen and, most importantly, wants to feel better connected to them. Another great resource, which I’m sure you’re teen is already quite familiar with, is the internet! More specifically, websites such as familycircle.com and kidshealth.org offer a variety of great articles and suggestions for beginning various types of conversations with children and adolescents.
But- perhaps you’ve already had this talk with your family. Some parents often see their teen come home in tears, talking about how their world has crumbled now that their significant other has ended their 3 month relationship. To a teen, their world may certainly feel over. It is important to withhold the parental advice and simply listen. Just be there and savor this amazing gift you’ve just been given, that of your teen being emotionally vulnerable with you. And maybe, after their apocalyptic feelings have subsided, talk with your teen about how they view this idea of love.