Romantic interests are a completely normal part of growing up. However, it’s what teens do with that interest and how you handle your teen’s emerging feelings that matters.
It would be naïve of parents to think their child won’t develop love interests at various times in their high school years. However, belittling your teen for having feelings is the quickest way to ensure they never come to you to talk about relationships as they get older.
Parents shouldn’t rush their young teens into intense romantic relationships. Neurologically, they are still trying to figure out who they are, and teens can become clingy and over-attached when they try to find their identity or meaning in a romantic partner.
Evidence suggests younger teens often experience more costs and fewer benefits when involved in a romantic relationship—that is, teens describe their early relationships as more stressful and less supportive (compared to older teens and young adults who find the levels of affection, companionship and intimacy more rewarding).
So how do you broach the subject of dating and romantic love with your child?
Be careful not to shut down the potential for conversations with your teen, by either embarrassing them or laughing off their romantic feelings as “silly” or “childish”.
Acknowledge their feelings and talk about what qualities they find attractive and what qualities they don’t.
Chat about your time growing up and the feelings and difficulties you had.
Encourage teens to realise that they don’t need to “find themselves” in another person.
Help build up your child’s sense of personal value.
Encourage them to be involved in many areas of life such as friendships, hobbies, sports and other interests.
Remind them that romance is only one dimension of us as whole people.
Group dates or gatherings with a bunch of girls and boys in public places or homes, supervised by an adult, are a healthy and safe way for teens to learn about what they find attractive in a person and become comfortable being themselves too.
Adapted from Collett’s upcoming book, They’ll Be Okay: 15 Conversations to Help Your Child Through Troubled Times (Hachette, 2019).