By Guest Blogger Molly McDonald-Stone MA, LCMHC-A
What is more difficult than helping a teenager navigate the dating scene? Perhaps, helping them navigate a relationship that you adamantly disapprove of! Knowing what to do can be tricky, especially if you are feeling that they are more inclined to rebel the harder you attempt to condemn the relationship. The most important thing to remember about your teen is the exponential ways in which they are growing and how rapidly they are trying to keep up with their own changes.
I often tell parents to look at not only who their child’s partner is, but also, to look at what that partner might represent. As teens are attempting to establish their own identity, the selection of an intimate partner is a choice that introduces many new experiences, socially, as well as sexually. What types of things does this new significant other introduce to your child? Most importantly, why is this interesting to your child?
To deny them the opportunity to explore this relationship is to stop your child’s process of curiosity, and ultimately their ability to navigate their own choices. This is a time when self discovery is everything and it is essential to preserve your child’s sense of autonomy. To forbid the relationship or attempt to remove the presence of the significant other is to eliminate a learning process that can ultimately help your child navigate further relationships. Rest assured, most of these young relationships run their course quickly due to their nature. Once both partners have satisfied their own curiosities, they are usually ready to move on to the next experience.
As a parent you do have the power to help direct your teen as they go through this new process. I am not suggesting anyone be a casual observer of anything that they feel is toxic for their child. What I am suggesting is that parents look inward to fill the gaps that seem to have been filled by the new partner. Ask your teen what they really like about this person and try to listen. This is not the space for criticism. You can not reach a deeper understanding of your teen if they fear judgment in sharing with you. As their parent you have the ability to help your teen find for themselves what they are seeking from relationships with others. For example, if they feel like their new partner is someone who listens to them, then you as their parent have to provide a better space for your teen to be heard. Is this someone introducing your child to new people or experiences? How can the family find new paths of adventure or ways to introduce new friendships?
Keep in mind, the best way to help your teen grow in your own relationship with them is to give love, time, and space for one another. It is never subtracting people or experiences. By supporting your teen through difficult choices you are creating a space where they learn to trust not only you but in themselves.
Ways to Connect:
~ Ask questions! To understand what your teen likes about their partner you need to ask them. What do they find attractive about this person? What does this person like to do for fun? What is their family like?
~ Be prepared to listen without judgement. Fight the urge to contest statements that might not be the same opinion as your own. You are trying to learn about your teen as well as their partner. Most importantly, you are creating a safe space where your teen can talk to you.
~ Learn to talk about uncomfortable things. Yes, the sex talk can be awkward for both parties involved. However, ask yourself where your teen will learn the ABC’s if not from you.
~ It’s never too early to teach intimacy. Teaching your teen about trust and vulnerability is often overlooked once the facts about sex have been presented. Huge mistake! You have a wonderful opportunity when your teen starts dating to explore with them the power of saying yes or no, and the consequences of choosing either.
~ Remember inclusion, instead of exclusion. The best way to get to know your teen’s new partner and your teen’s roll in the relationship is to actively participate with the couple. Offer to drive or pick up from dates or activities, invite both to dinner or family gatherings, help with school projects. This allows both individuals to feel accepted and supported in their new relationship.
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