When both of my children, one girl and one boy, got to the age of being interested in the opposite sex I was taken off guard. One day they are all about mom and dad and then you find you have to share. These years can be complicated for both your children and for parents but there are ways to help both of you survive the dating years.
This seems silly to some parents, especially to those of us who are all about open communication, but not all people are the same and so it is with parents. It is important to communicate with your children from the time they are very small and to not just give them information about things but about feelings. For some of us this is easy, for some of us it is not so easy. You should begin when they are small telling them about your feelings in regards to different situations for example: “It makes mom/dad feel sad when you do not obey and then you get hurt.” Or “I am sorry mom/dad got so upset, I was wrong.”
It is sometimes easier for girls to get in touch with their feelings and harder for boys, but not always. How many times have you met someone that cannot express their feelings about a situation or that avoid talking about feelings? Talking to your children when they are small can help them to communicate better as adults and express their feelings, which in turn helps them to form stronger relationships. This can also save them from heartache during the early dating years. So many children do not understand what they are feeling and it makes dating awkward and sometimes can be harmful.
My daughter is seven years older than my son so we went through this with her first. We had very open channels of communication with both children, me more than my spouse. My spouse had problems with communication as well which probably helped me to better understand the children’s needs and the urgency of learning early on how to communicate. I knew first hand how hard it makes any relationship when the communication is impeded.
Anyway, back to my daughter. She is a highly intelligent child who would rather not talk unless there is something worth saying. She is the kind of child who is very aware of everything going on around her but is very guarded about her feelings. She does not like to put herself out there emotionally so that she does not get hurt. She thrives in an intellectual setting where she can share information and avoid feelings. But God bless her little soul, she had me, who from the time she was very small shared feelings and tried to instill confidence in social arenas. This was not an easy task with this one because she immersed herself in studies, books, and anything else that would protect her from a social life. It seems like up until the fifth grade she was social and I could not understand what had happened. The teachers started calling me from school saying that she no longer played during recess, she just sat on the bench and read, and they were concerned there was a problem. When I asked her she would say “nothing is wrong” and that was that. Several years went by before she articulated what she was feeling. She said, “The girls all wanted to talk about boys, clothes, and music, and the boys said I had cooties and would not let me play with them any longer.” That was that, sometimes it is so simple.
But she pretty much shut down from then on. Besides being intelligent my daughter sees things as either black or white, there are no gray areas. We are a Christian family and our kids have been raised on the word of God and been in Sunday school and church their entire lives. I am very thankful that she has high standards but that also put a damper on her social life. She would not compromise her convictions for anyone. Needless to say she did not date much. The first young man she dated was highly intelligent like she was. I am really not ashamed to say that I tried to eavesdrop on their telephone conversations because I could not imagine what they talked on the phone about for so long knowing her as I do. When I happened to overhear they were talking politics, philosophy, and other such interesting topics. It was nothing like the dating conversations that I remember as a youth but it seemed to make her happy.
Yet every time they would go out on a date she would get very nervous and come home saying that she had an okay time. When I asked she would tell me that he made her nervous. Come to find out that he wanted to steal a kiss and she thought it was kind of disgusting. *Smile* It was not too long before she came to me and told me that she was going to break it off with this fellow because she could not take the pressure. Oh my. She called him up and told him she wanted to break it off and he just could not understand why. She gave him one of those, “It’s me, not you” kind of answers. He asked if they could still be friends and she said no. Wow. But it was way too much emotional pressure for her during this stage in her life. I was concerned but also proud of the fact that she handled it with maturity. She knew what she could handle and when it was making her more stressed out than happy she took care of it. That showed me the level of her maturity but also showed me the struggles she was having with her emotions.
We were able to go from that point in her life and discuss it as adults. My spouse and I talked it over and asked her if she would like to go to a counselor to discuss her feelings because some things are hard to discuss with your parents; we thought it may help her. She did see a counselor for a couple of years and it helped her to be able to open up even more and today she is in a very loving, open relationship and has been for a year and a half. She told me just the other day that if it she would have had the confidence she had now she would have loved to have stayed friends with that first boy. Sometimes it is important to look at your child’s emotional health and if you can not meet their needs offer up the services of a well researched counselor.
Then there is my son. From the time he was in pre-K he has had girlfriends. He has always been the social one as far as being outgoing and friendly. But being social does not mean he necessarily had the communication and feelings thing all down. When he got to the age of dating he would often come home and inquire of his mom or sister what in the heck was going on with this current girlfriend. He has also had the benefit of growing up with one of his grandmothers so essentially he has been surrounded by women. He counts this to his advantage because woman always comment on how well he understands them. Other times, however, he counts this to his disadvantage as well!
Open communication does not mean that your children will not have any problems emotionally and relationally but it does mean that they will always have someone to come to and someone on their side during the awkward years of dating and learning to relate to others. Being open and honest with your children from the time they are small puts you in a good position to be the one that guides them instead of their peers which can often turn disastrous in the long run. You want your kids to get the very best guidance from someone that loves them and that is accurate. There is nothing like the bond of a parent/child relationship to form a well nurtured, loving, and emotionally healthy young adult.