Helping Your Teen Navigate Love and Relationships

adolescent-brand-canvass-1021145Childhood crushes are sweet and innocent, and often a time when parents relish the adorable things that children say when hearts and halos are dancing above their heads.  However, as an adolescent or teen, thoughts about love and romance change as hormones enter the picture and parents experience an entirely new set of feelings watching their child enter into uncharted territory.

So, how can parents help adolescents and teens navigate feelings of “being in love” and all of the body changes that are happening simultaneously?  How can they help their teen learn how to view healthy relationships, sexual intimacy, and intense thoughts?

1.Start with helping your growing adolescent or teen to develop a healthy self- concept rooted in the perfect love of God. 

A person who doesn’t love themselves first and find themselves worthy of being loved well is likely to head into a destructive relationship.   Loving oneself is a growing process and shouldn’t be expected to happen overnight.  For some, it is a lifetime journey.

As a Christian, loving oneself doesn’t mean being self-centered.  It means being rooted in who God says we are, understanding his love for us individually, knowing the gifts He has given us, and realizing that He wants us to serve Him first. When your child knows who she is in Christ, and fully recognizes that God loves her and pursues her uniquely, that becomes a foundation for knowing that she is valued and treasured by her Heavenly Father.

2. Talk with her about what true love, which is love in action, looks like. 

Discuss what the Bible says about how we are commanded to love our spouses the way that Christ loves the church.  Talk about 1 Corinthians 13 and what “love in action” looks like and how it is different than “falling in love”.  True love is not a result of romance or infatuation.  It is the culmination of what happens when God is between two people and they pursue Him first and one another second.

3. Your teen should know she is worthy of being loved.  That means learning to guard her heart.

She should expect that one day she will put love into action when God brings someone special to her, but that she also will need to be loved well in return.  Too many destructive relationships happen when young people, in the heat of “falling in love”, pour their hearts into a relationship with someone else who abuses their trust, is unkind, makes them feel they are unworthy, or that they have to work to be loved.

Make sure that if your teen is interested in a relationship, or already in one, that she is being treated well and is feeling good about who she is.  Ensure that she isn’t feeling pressure to work for someone else’s appreciation or respect.  It is easy for teens to slip into vulnerable positions and become wounded when they pour in, and yet don’t deem themselves worthy enough to be poured into.

4. Make sure that your teen understands why sex is supposed to be within the covenant bond of marriage.

Most secular teaching on abstinence is focused on the risk of STDs and pregnancy.  Most Christian families emphasize the importance of abstinence, but don’t provide their teens with understanding as to why it is valued by the Lord.  The Lord treasures the covenant of marriage.  It is covered by Him.  It is sanctified and pure.  It is in this covenant that the Lord provides protection and pours out blessing.

Teens should know that they are worthy of someone who will wait and never place pressure on them to enter into a sexual relationship.  True love implies sacrifice, waiting, and respecting purity.

5. Discuss with your teen that while feelings of being infatuated with someone at this age can feel good and special, it is important to stay focused on what is healthy including family, long term goals, and where God is wanting her to go. 

That means that family time, academics, activities, and friendships should always take priority in terms of time.  Why?  Taking care of oneself should take precedence at this age.  This is critical.  Parents often will ask me how much time for a teen with a girlfriend or boyfriend is too much?  Teens are not yet neurologically fully developed, and they tend to act on what feels good as opposed to what is good.  Your position as a parent should be to care, to actively listen, to validate, and to guide.

Your daughter needs you and needs to have the security of family structure from a mental and physical health standpoint.  She needs to know that her time with you, is valued by you, and your investment of one on one time should continue.  Many parents allow their teen to make decisions to spend more time with romantic interests than with family.  Parents want to fall into the teen’s good graces and be “cool”.  Being in this line of work and seeing the damage these parental decisions can do long term, I can promise you it is better to let your child know the world can wait.  You don’t want your teen taking flight prematurely.  Make sure she knows the comfort of the nest, the direction of where and how to fly and explore safely, prior to letting her go and enter potentially dangerous skies.

6. Educate your teen about the risks of sexual activity, including STDs and pregnancy. 

This is a no-brainer.  It is your job as a parent to not leave this up to schools to do.  Be honest, be open, be gentle, and be real.

7. Invite your teen’s romantic interest out with your family. 

Family outings can be a lot of fun with your teen and the person she likes.  Try taking them out to dinner, and get to know him!  Make sure he knows how much you love her, and what your family values are.  Create fun outings where they have appropriate independence but understand that you are present.

Don’t make surface conversation.  Dig deeper and get to know what he cares about and believes in.  It is important that you invest that time and safeguard your teen.  This sets a precedent that you care enough to know more.

8. Be present for her after social outings. 

If your teen wants to go on a group outing with friends or a date, be sure to know where they are going.   Set appropriate curfew times, have her keep her cell phone on, and be awake and available to talk when she comes home.  Get out a snack and hang out with her, even if it’s late.  This is showing love and demonstrating interest.  It doesn’t mean you do so with the expectation that she will always talk or that you force conversation.  It does mean, that regardless of her talking, you take a posture of showing you are available and care.

9. When your teen gets wounded by someone in a relationship, be present, be an active listener, and do not say “I told you so”. 

This is the time to listen, validate, and lay off the advice.  When your teen talks with you about a broken heart, it is an honor.  Love on her.  She will need it.  Make time to do special things to get her mind off the hurt, even if that means binge watching a show together and making her favorite comfort foods.

Make time to be active or do something outside- exercise does wonders for emotional well being and recovery.  What you model during this time as healthy coping skills will stick with your teen for life.  She will learn that when future heart breaks come, it is healthy and good to talk, to share, to be validated, and to be gentle to herself.

Stay away from saying things like “I knew he wasn’t good for you” or “Why do you care so much? He is such an idiot”.  Validate your teen’s feelings for the other person, in spite of any feelings you may have about it.  Normalize that it is very hard to care for someone and not have feelings reciprocated.

Affirm her and let her know all the things you love about her.   Write a letter to her and let her know how much she is loved by you.  Measures like this may get the “Moooo-ooom! I know!!!” reaction, but it is good for a teen to know mom and dad’s love and affirmation doesn’t ever go away, even when tides change outside of the home.

10. Never shame your child. 

If your teen has done something in a romantic relationship that you disapprove of, do not say things that cause her to feel shame and guilt.  Doing so not only prevents her from coming to you to talk, but it also alienates her and makes her feel unworthy.  Love your child, extend grace, and let her know that you are happy she came to you.  Make sure she knows that we have all have done things we regret and know aren’t right.  Help her to understand the importance of God’s love and drawing closer to Him.  Your loving reaction will be something she remembers always.

4 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV