How Parents should tackle high school relationships

Dating in high school can be a scary experience and also a very exciting one. You meet new people, fall in love, although it can seem magical, it becomes very risky when it has to be done in secret to avoid parents knowing.

Teen romance is normal. Romantic interests are natural and healthy during adolescence. Some kids are more overt or vocal about their interest in dating, but others are paying attention and intrigued by the prospect of a romantic life, even if they keep it to themselves. Dating helps teens build social skills and grow emotionally. 

A lot of teenagers are forbidden from dating due to parental restrictions. Although parents believe this is a good thing and that they are protecting their children, I don’t believe that is what they are doing. I believe there are a lot more underlying risks by putting restrictions on teen dating. 

For instance, dating builds relationship skills. New skills in the realms of communication, caring, thoughtfulness, intimacy, and independence. They can collide with a developing sexuality, limited impulse control, and the urge to push boundaries. Teens may also have some unrealistic ideas about dating based on what we see online, in the movies, or read in books. We spend a lot of time texting and messaging potential love interests on social media. For some, this approach can make dating easier because they can test the waters and get to know one another online first. For those teens who are shy, meeting in person can be more awkward, especially since kids spend so much time tied to their electronics at the expense of face-to-face communication. Real-life dating doesn’t mimic a teen Netflix or Disney movie Instead, first dates may be awkward or they may not end in romance. Dates may be in a group setting or even via Snapchat—but the feelings are just as real. Understand that early dating in teens gives us the chance to work on these life skills such as social interaction. We do make mistakes and get hurt, but ideally, we also learn from those experiences. 

“Parents should never minimize or ridicule a first love,” says Tucson pediatrician Dr. George Comerci. “It is a very important relationship to teenagers, and it’s important for another reason, in that it is their first intimate relationship with someone outside their family.” 

Teens are going to do it anyway. I know that many people think this is a horrible reason to allow your kids to do anything. Except that in this instance, I have seen time and time again parents who refuse to allow their kids to date and kids who lie, sneak around, and do it anyway. Maybe you think your kids won’t lie to you, or disobey you, or sneak around and do things behind your back, but I have seen way too many times that they will. Doing this just causes kids to be more suspicious and not come to you for things.

You would have more control. Most of our teenage years we can’t drive yet. We can’t go anywhere without permission. You can get to know the kid. Get to know the other kid’s parents and what his/her home life is like. Make plans to do things with the other family. I have gone to the movies with my crush’s family, out to casual dinners, the amusement park. Once we can drive we will be off going places and you probably won’t know where half the time when we are sneaking around or lying about who we are with. 

Teens are still willing to listen to what parents have to say. The key is finding the way to say it so they will listen. I once had a boyfriend that was always angry at me for something. I never quite seemed to understand what I was doing wrong. And I’m so lucky that my mom didn’t once say, “Dump that Brat!” 

The stakes at my age don’t seem as high. The emotional investment was not as deep. It was much easier for her to help me realize that this boy was not acting like a friend, which is the key part of the word girl-friend. A girlfriend or boyfriend should first and foremost be a friend. They should treat you the way a friend would treat you. There shouldn’t be arguing, jealousy or drama. You should have common interests and goals. Incoming freshmen and maybe even earlier is a good age to point this out. Not just in boyfriend/girlfriend situations, but in all friendships. You may think that we are perfect, but we are just learning to navigate this world and they need to remind us to be kind and trustworthy friends and to expect the same.

It’s a learning opportunity. This is the one that I feel is the most important for us to learn. We are laying out the blueprint for the path their future relationships will take. You wouldn’t let your teenager drive without some instruction, view this as relationship instructions. At this age, we are still very much under your control, supervision, and guidance. In a few years, we will be ending high school and you will not be privy to much of the inner workings of their social lives. This is the perfect opportunity to teach them what being in a relationship with someone means.

Parents really need to take a step back at the teaching opportunity they have with their teens when it comes to healthy, stable relationships. There are more important things than your daughter sitting next to a boy at lunch and then calling themselves bf and gf.