The thing you feared most has happened! Your teenager is “in love”!
Relax; it’s not the end of the world. You may remember your own teen days and all the things you got up to, and be tempted to give in to panic. Don’t; you need your wits about you.
Children are becoming aware much earlier these days. Even if you do activate parental control on your DSTV, monitor what they read, keep an eye on their online and offline activities, and generally do your best to protect your child’s innocence, they’ll still pick up these things, often from their schoolmates. I’ve heard of seven-year-old pupils discussing dating and even kissing.
In fact, last week a friend shared an exchange with her sons aged 7 and 5 that went something like this:
7-year-old: Supergirl is Spiderman’s girlfriend.
Her: [surprised] Eh? What is girlfriend?
[Her 7-year-old looks at her like, which bush is this mummy from sef?]
5-year old: [pitying her] It means they’re friends but in a romantic way.
The fact that it was the younger one who did the explaining totally cracked me up!
Considering the early exposure (and sometimes overexposure) to romance, chances are you may have had to support your child emotionally even before his or her teens. The other day, another friend was telling a group of us how her eight-year-old son responded to “how was school today?” with a narration of how a girl he liked in school had been snatched away by his friend. She counselled him lovingly (after helping his dad stop freaking out) on things that are meant for adults, on peer pressure and how emotions can be manipulated. When said girl “came back”, guess who he told? And when the girl eventually relocated, guess who had to provide some comfort for the departure?
The way you handle your child’s emotions matters a lot and varies with their age. If your teenager has fallen in love, here are a few tips that will help both of you:
- Demystify it: If you’ve raised your child to confide in you and they share their feelings with you, please don’t go acting like it’s a terminal illness or that they have committed a crime by having romantic feelings, otherwise you’ll put them off confiding in you. Have that conversation with a straight face.
- Don’t make light of it: It won’t do your teenager any good to hear you say that what he or she feels is not real or important. You have a better understanding of how infatuation works, and you know this is probably not going to last, but that’s not what they need to hear from you at this point. Showing sensitivity and allowing them to talk and express themselves will go a long way. Listening is one of the best things you can do. Resist the urge to lecture your teenager or tell them how to feel.
- Remember you’re the parent: As your teen’s relationship progresses and they keep confiding in you, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be their “friend” but always remember that you’re their parent. There are things they expect from you, including firm discipline, even though they may not tell you or even be aware of this expectation. While being a confidant, don’t forget to help your teen set boundaries such as curfews, dating only in groups, no dropping grades, etc. What these boundaries will be is entirely up to you, but please be the parent. Know where they are, know the friends they’re with, and what they’ll be doing. From sex to drugs, there’s a lot that can happen. An infatuated teen can easily get carried away —you know how it is — so make it clear, gently and firmly, that you are responsible for their safety and as such you will not stand by and watch them mess up their future in any way.
- Be sympathetic: Only a few teenage relationships last. These feelings of infatuation can fade in less than a year for one or both of them, and you may have a heartbroken teenager to console. Be there for them and please do not say or imply “I told you so”. It’s their journey and there are things they must learn by themselves in order to grow.
If you help create boundaries and keep the channels of communication open, your teenager will come out of this phase wiser and stronger without your relationship being affected.