Whether you call it puppy love or a school crush, you cannot stop your teen from developing romantic feelings towards another person.
It is a phase that most parents and teens will go through at some point.
We all know about “the talk” – the one every parent has (or should have) with their teenaged child about sex, love and relationships.
But we often tend to focus on the physical aspect of these relationships, so much so that we forget the emotional side of things, i.e. how to love and to be loved.
Some parents may not even realise that their teenage child is in a relationship!
After all, many parents still view dating while in school as negative, often leading to children being secretive about that part of their lives.
To manage this phase, parents need to be open-minded about dating, so that teens are comfortable in sharing their concerns and parents are able to provide the necessary guidance.
A healthy relationship can be a positive experience in shaping a child’s identity and preparing him or her for future relationships as adults.
Such a relationship involves mutual respect, trust, honesty, compromise, self-identity, support and communication.
In contrast, an unhealthy relationship revolves around disrespect, hostility, dishonesty, control, dependence, intimidation and violence.
And without adult guidance, teenagers may fall into harmful – or worse, abusive – relationships that will adversely affect their wellbeing.
A guide for parents
Here are some tips for parents on how to handle teen dating:
In the beginning, group dating – where a group of boys and girls go out together – can be a safe and healthy way for your teen to start socialising.
You can let her go on a solo date in her late teens as she becomes more mature, independent and responsible (e.g. when she respects your rules and knows how not to get into trouble).
Teach your son to treat his partner respectfully and know the boundaries, and your daughter how to protect herself and detect danger signs.
Get to know their partner and circle of friends better.
You can also impose appropriate rules according to community standards: reporting their situation hourly, returning home before a certain time, etc.
Love is a subject of utmost curiosity for teens and they need someone to direct their questions to.
It is better for parents to take this role, instead of leaving it to outsiders or the Internet.
Let your teen know that she can approach you with any question – be open and do not judge.
Talk about healthy versus unhealthy relationships and ethics, or simply share your own experiences.
This conversation can also be a starting point to discuss sex with your teen.
In fact, you can initiate this conversation even before she develops romantic feelings for anyone.
Most adolescent relationships do not last beyond the school years, but do not view them with a cynical lens.
Avoid teasing your child about being in a relationship as it may embarrass him, and he may avoid sharing his thoughts and feelings with you.
The romantic feeling he has is as real as any other feeling he is experiencing and should not be belittled.
This relationship is important in shaping his identity and character.
The advent of the smartphone and social media has made dealing with dating complicated.
There are all kinds of dating apps available for download; beware that these apps also expose your teen to predators.
It is also easier for teens to hide their relationships from parents with their own smartphone or laptop.
Keep yourself updated with the latest apps or sites teens use, and encourage them to be open about their relationships.
Violence happens in different forms (emotional, physical or sexual) and to both genders.
Even the act of stalking is considered harmful.
Note any signs or changes of behaviour in your teen that may signal a harmful relationship, such as unexplained bruises, constant moodiness, drop in school performance, isolating oneself from family and friends, and avoiding talking about her partner.
Check up on your teen’s relationship regularly and approach her if you have any concerns.
Love can be all-consuming and distract your child from other priorities.
When his performance in school declines and he no longer spends time with his other friends, it is time to limit his dates and remind him of his responsibilities.
Emotional fusion occurs when a person forms an intense relationship with another person, and individual choices and autonomy are undermined for the sake of maintaining the bond.
It happens in a relationship that seems too clingy or needy.
There is little tolerance and high sensitivity in the relationship.
A relationship with emotional fusion is unhealthy and will not last long.
A healthy relationship requires two healthy people with a stable sense of identity.
Parents tend to be overprotective with their teens when it comes to dating.
However, knowing whom your child is seeing is better than being in the dark about the relationship.
Relationships need not be something negative in a teenager’s life, but a stepping stone to enjoying a healthy, happy family life in their future.
It is up to parents to start the ball rolling, and engage in open discussions and sharing with their teens, so that love and dating have a positive impact on their lives.
Dr Nazeli Hamzah is a consultant paediatrician and past president of the Malaysian Association for Adolescent Health. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.