How to Help Your Child Navigate this Age-Old Territory
If you have a preteen or young teen, no doubt you’ve already heard from them about who’s “going out,” along with other terms to describe crushes on someone of the opposite sex. Right now, it’s likely more platonic affection than true love—and middle school crushes aren’t known to last long! But things will be different as they get older, so parents should begin laying the groundwork now to help their young teen learn how to form healthy relationships in the future. Parents need to take their children’s crushes and the hurt and disappointment that sometimes go along with them seriously. In other words, don’t make fun of them, don’t dismiss it—and really listen to them. This can really keep the lines of communication open throughout the teen years. Even though it seems that your advice may be falling on deaf ears, love, openness and communication will come through.
Girls tend to start earlier to have crushes, to the point where some parents worry that their daughter is thinking of nothing else. Parents of boys worry about more aggressive girls and their sons’ early interest, experts say. In the case of crushes, both sexes are looking for acceptance in these short-lived relationships. Boys tend to want to be admired; girls are more likely to need to be loved. So when a girl gets “asked out”—which usually means sitting together on the bus but little else—she feels good about herself.
Parents can help build self-esteem early in life by encouraging and setting goals that the child can realistically reach. Give positive feedback and correct the negative in the context of more positive words. Without that early foundation, girls in particular can be so desperate for affection that they just might accept abuse. Parents need to remember their own adolescence and be open for discussion on a variety of topics. In adolescence, friendships can take on a whole new meaning and it is normal for them to start feeling more self-conscious about their appearance. Complicating the issue is that adolescents sometimes value more superficial attributes over deeper ones. For example, a girl might value appearance or status at first, but later as she matures, she might value fidelity and ability to support a family.
Even with the ups and downs of a crush, it should be fun and make both children feel good about themselves. If not, parents should watch for any pattern that shows a child is tolerating abusive behavior or is miserable—and help him or her realize that it is not the norm for healthy friendships or relationships. Children should also be careful when they are no longer interested and want to “break up”—to remember the golden rule and treat the person as they would like to be treated.
The adolescent and early teen years are tough. Children need to know that home is where they feel safe; a place where they can talk about anything and that you will be there to listen. It’s critical that they are able to trust you. Listen to them, and reassure them that it will okay. The best way for parents to show appropriate relationships and how to treat others is to be clear about their attitudes and values and to be good role models themselves. You’ll teach your children much more about appropriate love and affection for another person if you show them how to treat someone rather than just tell them.
Excerpts taken from Lori Pruitt’s article in Birmingham Parent.