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Learning to Love

How to Support Your Teen’s Romantic Relationships.


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Your daughter’s latest crush has a shock of thick black hair and a brown belt in Aikido. Enamored of his vegetarian lifestyle and Eastern interests, she’s talking tofu and downloading anime movies by the gigabyte. You? Not so impressed.

Starry Eyes

“Although many parents would like pre-teens to participate in supervised group activities, school dances, and trips to the mall or the movies, kids are starting to date earlier than most parents would like,” says relationship education advocate Lindsay Kriger, creator of the young women’s romance advice blog If Only I Knew. Tweens are often preoccupied with romance. They may be infatuated with classmates or obsessed with peers’ partnerships. Spending time with mixed-sex peer groups exposes kids to potential love interests and offers opportunities for flirtation. By ages 16–18, 75 percent of teens report they’ve had a relationship, dated or “hooked up” with someone.

Dating is an opportunity for adolescents to test out different identities, says Stephanie Madsen, PhD, associate professor of psychology at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. One month your teen may sport an athletic persona; the next, he wants to turn your garage into a recording studio. His wardrobe and personal style may shift to please the latest would-be girlfriend. For parents, watching kids try on identities may be like watching bad comedy. Though the characters are awkward and unbelievable, you can’t look away.

Relationships are like a mirror: Kids see themselves as others see them and find out how their words and actions draw others closer or push them away. Tweens and teens also learn about their values and goals, explore their feelings, and practice communication and commitment in dating relationships, says Los Angeles-based teen life coach Melissa Kahn.

“In some ways, teenage love is the purest, sweetest love of all—the kind that is about attraction and fun,” says Kahn. But that doesn’t mean young love is easy. “Romance is a double-edged sword,” says Madsen. Being admired and desired is exhilarating; being disregarded or dumped can be crushing.

Parenting pointers to support healthy relationships ->

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