First crushes, kisses, and relationships often make parents nervous. Importance of acknowledging our children’s feelings and talking about them. 

Amidst a little laughter, eye-rolling, and with much magnanimity from my teen children, I found out that these days ‘shipping’ has nothing to do with the mode of transportation or the act of mailing a package. It is short for  ‘relation-ship’ and is used as a verb quite loosely to say that you hope for two people to get into a relationship or that you believe so and so would look good together.  The dynamics of relationships also change with every generation. That’s why we need to understand how things are looked at in a teen’s world before we decide about how to talk to them.

The way you talk to your child about his or his first crush or first relationship will determine how they handle all relationships in the future. Conversations also lend us an opportunity to share our values with the next generation.

Of course, those of you think you need not talk about this subject at all, remember how things were when you were growing up. Despite our parent’s disapproval, didn’t most of us still pass on secret love notes to classmates or hide under the blanket to send text messages to our boyfriend or girlfriend? Wouldn’t it be better to do this without hiding, with someone to guide us when we have a hundred questions or want to make decisions about this new experience? So, accept that your child is growing up and start talking.

Let’s start with the little ones. If your six or eight-year old grandly or shyly shares that they ‘love’ or have a ‘crush’ on a friend, a teacher, an older cousin or a celebrity, simply listen to it as neutrally as you would listen to their banter about their school. Then you could demonstrate curiosity about what they think a crush is, how it’s making them feel, what they like about their crush. Then, acknowledge it and say, “Having a crush at this age is normal. It just means that you really like the person now… but you may feel very differently in a few days or weeks.’ A child may feel confused about the sudden difference in how they are feeling so you could reassure them by saying, “I too had crushes when I was your age. You can always ask me whatever you want about it.”

As kids enter adolescence, their curiosity grows. Your child may remain quiet or may have a list of questions. “Ma, what is the difference between a crush and liking-liking someone? Who were you shipped with? Did you tell your crush you liked them?” Answer the questions with honesty as far as possible. In case your 11 or 12 year old has never talked about these topics with you, you may ask a question to start the conversation. It can be: “Do you kids talk about crushes and relationships? It was such a big topic for us when I was your age.”

If you find out or your teen reveals that he is in a relationship or is seriously considering being in one, you may feel unprepared, scared or even freak out. Our own experience with relationships can come in the way of truly understanding what our child is experiencing. We may find ourselves being judgmental because we were shamed at that stage of our life. Or we may have not felt comfortable sharing with any adult and feel stumped about how to go about this discussion with our child. These are perfectly normal feelings to experience as a parent. The more aware we are and more in touch with our prejudices, the better equipped we are to have conversations that make our child feel understood and supported. So, being prepared is key. 

If children find that we are not taking their feelings seriously or are judging them, it can be a roadblock to any further conversation. Taking it seriously could include asking open-ended questions like, “I would love to hear how it’s been for you. What are some of the things you both find funny? What is something they love about you/find annoying about you? What are some things about this relationship that you are really enjoying? Are there any bits that worry you?”  Equally crucial is being open to their responses, whatever they may be. They know when they are truly being listened to.

This is also a time when sexual attraction comes into play, so if you haven’t yet had a conversation about consent, this is the right time to do so. Talk about what is acceptable, what is absolutely unacceptable and why. While it may seem like it would be best to lay down the law regarding this, inviting their opinions and understanding where they are coming from actually can be beneficial for us to influence their attitudes and actions, so they they are sensible in observing and setting boundaries. Research also says that having information from the right sources from us actually safeguards them from taking impulsive actions. 

Parents worry that these conversations and their acknowledgement could be perceived as encouragement by the child. However, this is not the case. We have observed when children feel acknowledged, they will feel comfortable talking with you about their feelings. If not, the only difference is that they won’t share with you. What they are feeling won’t magically go away.

These conversations can happen over a game of scrabble, or during a drive. The teens may find it even more awkward than us, so best to talk about the elephant in the room, and say, “We both will find this weird but let’s do it anyways!” If the conversation seems to be monosyllabic, you could share your experiences, and how it was for you. The connection of this shared experience can help the child feel more comfortable. Even, if they are not sharing immediately, we could say, “Hey, I would be happy to talk whenever you feel ready.”

We may be worried that the roller-coaster of emotions a first relationship brings with it may be too much for our child to handle. Observing whether they are overly dependent on the relationship emotionally or if it is impacting their involvement in activities and academics adversely, is important. It would be helpful to understand whether the child is happy being in the relationship. It is not uncommon for children to choose to be in a relationship because they want to fit in or because it is ‘cool’ to do so. If required, casually ask your child whether they want to rethink the relationship. Don’t impose your views and allow them to make their own decisions.

To sum it up, take your teen seriously, understand and help them understand their feelings. Recognize that our young ones are testing their wings and coming into their own. This is a natural phase of the growing up years — and you are the best person to guide them through this. 


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