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Is your teenager in love?

With Valentine's Day here, I find myself crushed by parents who have lots of questions about how to deal with their teenager's ongoing romantic adventures. Well let me see if I can get to the heart of the matter and provide some information on this topic.

During early adolescence, it is usually typical for younger teens to go out in groups which should initially set parents at ease as long as they know who is in the group.

While most teenage girls will start dating at 14 or 15 and guys at 15 or 16 years of age, there is no one set age to begin dating, and hopefully that decision is something based on the maturity of your child and some good family discussion to establish dating and relationship guidelines.

How do you set those guidelines? Well even before adolescence you hopefully have established a good line of communication with your child, and if so, encourage your teen to talk with you about friends or to ask questions about sex, but please withhold any personal judgments which could close off that line of communication. Parents need to be supportive and interested but not overbearing to the point of intervening in a child's social life. You can on the other hand be clear about your values, since these will be the foundation upon which your teen(s) will make future decisions.

Watch television or listen to the radio with your teen and comment on the differences between the sexuality portrayed in the media and the healthy responsible decisions one needs to make about sex in real life.

Make sure your teenagers are aware that the use of drugs and/or alcohol will alter anyone's judgment and make them vulnerable in an intimate situation. A great idea is to offer a guilt-free, no questions asked, ride home if your teenager is heading for a situation when out with someone that could result in their doing something everyone will regret. Hopefully tips like this will hit the target better than Cupid's arrow when it comes to knowing what to say and do when it comes to talking with - or better yet listening to - your teenagers talk about their boyfriends and girlfriends.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9 FM and WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.

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