Ah, young love. The season for young romance is in full swing, and some parents may be experiencing first-time love. Concerns are natural. After all, we’ve all been there!
So, what do you do when your child falls in love for the first time? For one of my kids, that happened at age 4. My son fell in love with a girl at his child care center, and the two talked about getting married. My other son, who is currently 14, says he’ll fall in love ten years from now. He’s not in any hurry.
Every child is different. Some kids fall in love often and date a lot. Others don’t seem to be interested at all. Still,others go through phases: they get a crush, recover, get another crush,and then aren’t interested in dating for a while.
So no need to worry: This is all normal! Yet, as parents we tend to get anxious when our kids fall in love too much (or too hard)—or when our kids don’t seem interested at all in dating. We all need to just let our kids find their own way in their own time while also remaining connected to them as they grow.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your dating experience with your child. I dated a lot. I went to every high school homecoming dance and prom. My husband didn’t date at all in high school. Hearing these two perspectives have helped our kids realize that it’s okay to date—and it’s okay not to date.
When kids do date, talk more about building a relationship rather than jumping too quickly into a sexually intimate connection. When we talk about how to develop a relationship with a person, such as asking questions to get to know each other, listening, and revealing what makes you unique, our kids learn how to develop a strong bond with another person. Kids can also learn about dating by doing activities together, such as going to the movies, eating out, playing soccer together, or another activity that doesn’t involve making out.
Of course, when teenagers are attracted to each other, they like to express their affections. Talk through appropriate ways to interact (such as holding hands and kissing) and what other sexual behaviors are okay at what age (and with what kind of protection). Learn more about early sexual activity >
Falling in love can be a wonderful experience. Remember the first time you fell in love?
But at the same time, falling in love can be downright frightening. Helping your child make sense of his or her emotions, work through the intensity of those emotions, and to make positive choices that are based in values, will benefit your child greatly. It also can strengthens your relationship when you take time to listen and understand your child and what he or she is going through.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (New York: Bantam, 1997).
2. Laurence Steinberg, You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).