Most of us know that we should be doing a better job of talking to our kids about teen dating, sex, and love. But for most of us, it’s just plain uncomfortable. Psychologist Dr. Wes Crenshaw and high-school senior Kyra Haas offer ideas for talking to teenagers about dating, sex, and love. Their insights will give you a basis for a more meaningful conversation with your teenager.
Dr. Wes on Teen Dating
How teenagers and young adults couple is a strong predictor of how they’ll connect later in life, so we want to take it seriously. This week we’ll offer our best rules for talking to teenagers about dating (and helping teens find love). It won’t surprise you to learn that they apply equally to the over-25 crowd, too.
1. The purpose of teen dating is to find out whom you don’t belong with.
Love requires a good search, trial and error, and a fair measure of heartbreak. In fact, if you’re interested, we have rules for breaking up too.
2. You’re only really ready to date when you don’t need to have a relationship to be happy.
Never let yourself stay with anyone you have to be with. Relationships require authentic choice, not dependency. We call this “differentiation.” It’s a word you’ll want teens to learn and use, and it begins at home with parents who are able to put aside their own longings to focus on who and what their teen wants to be.
3. Love isn’t just something you feel.
It’s something you do. In fact, next year on Valentine’s Day, I think I’ll give away brain-shaped boxes of candy, rather than hearts. I want to encourage teens to balance all those deep feelings of love with some practical attention to detail. Like, does your partner do okay in school? Does he or she treat others well? Does he or she have integrity?
4. Most people want to change … but not very much.
While couples inevitably alter each other, it’s best to start with as little assembly required as possible.
5. Never date someone you wouldn’t consider marrying.
Of course, nobody is ready for marriage at 16 (or 20), but thinking this way can help your dating practice stay focused. Alternatively, never date anyone you wouldn’t let your son or daughter date when someday you have a son or daughter.
6. Never date anyone you don’t want to be broken up from.
Judge partners not by how they treat people they like, but by how they treat people with whom they have conflict. You’ll undoubtedly be one of them some day.
7. Relationships go from where they start.
Never ignore red flags at the beginning while everything is flowers and unicorns running through a field of roses.
8. All relationships are four-dimensional.
As love ages the raw spots start to show. Give every relationship time before you deem it the love of your life or a complete flop.
9. The least motivated partner in a couple always has the most power—the power of walking away.
The most powerful dating partner is always the one who can say, “No.” Practice it in the mirror. It comes in handy.
10. Feeling “meant to be together” is about the most overrated dating idea ever.
Meaning to be together is where it’s at. Monogamy isn’t a natural state of being, so you have to get up every day and decide to be in a teen dating relationship.
11. Adversity is a critical test.
Couples aren’t judged by how they do when things are good. They’re judged by how they solve life’s problems.
12. Don’t sleep too many times with someone you don’t want to fall in love with.
Young women are especially fond today of claiming they can hook-up without emotional connection. Guys have always found pride in that dubious accomplishment. The problem is that most women are wired to connect, and nowhere is that truer than after sex when all the oxytocin is surging.
Kyra on Teen Dating
Studies show a sharp increase of breakups and divorce during January and February, as the winter holidays end and people set their expectations high for Valentine’s Day chocolates, flowers, and other stuff.
Here is my teen dating advice for staying together and knowing when to move apart. Use them in equal parts to find a good relationship.
13. Resist the urge to ‘gram it.
Yes, your anticipated 150 Instagram likes and 12 comments on a dating selfie are probably spot-on perfect. However, weigh which is more important: this moment with your significant other, or the double-tap approval of that girl you sat next to at lunch once in middle school.
14. Listen to your head when it’s talking to you.
Just because a decent-looking person wants to be more than friends, that doesn’t mean you should throw logic out the window and dive headfirst into what may be a shallow pool of actual substance. It’s better to acknowledge warning signs than to hold desperately to a slowing dying relationship a few months down the road.
15. Cling not to others, lest they cling to you.
Relationships are based on trust, and if you or your partner must maintain constant contact 24/7, that’s a problem. Do things with each other, but don’t ignore or disregard other people.
16. Along the same lines, realize that while romantic relationships can be exciting, friendships are equally important.
Blowing off friends for a new significant other will be harmful to all relationships involved. Don’t burn your bridges to follow your dream person, only to break up and have no one to fall back on.
17. Know when to call it off.
Don’t hold onto a lost cause. Call me naïve, but I truly believe in the cliché that there is someone out there for everyone—and that someone isn’t one who creates more problems than he or she solves.
Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., is board certified in couples and family psychology (ABPP). At the time this article was published, Kyra Haas was a senior at Free State High School. She is now a freshman in college.