Q: YIKES! My 15-year-old son now has a girlfriend, and he didn’t ask for my permission first! What can I do to slow everything down?
A: Young love stirs up many emotions for everyone in the family. As you have discovered, your son did not need to ask for your permission before falling in love.
Here are some pointers for handling this situation with grace and support for your son:
- Get to know the young lady and her family, if possible. Let your son know he can invite his girlfriend over for dinner or for popcorn and a movie with your family. If she is a classmate, at the next school event ask your son to introduce you to her parents.
- Stay neutral about the girlfriend and about the timing of this relationship. Voicing any type of disapproval of the girlfriend or disapproval about being in a relationship may result in your son becoming more adamant about being in it. Forbidding their romance may cause them to lie about what is going on.
- Validate the feelings your son has about his newfound love. Recent studies suggest that the intensity of first love is related to the adolescent brain overestimating rewards, i.e. the high of love seems higher in adolescence. Read more at What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind?
- Minimize or at least monitor the times when your son and his girlfriend are alone, especially at either person’s home. Opportunity may increase the likelihood of sexual behavior.
- Emphasize to your son the importance of practicing safe sex — whatever that means for your family. Keep in mind that although your son may have had some sex education in school, he may not have absorbed the information he needs or has forgotten anything he learned. Let your son know you are his ally when it comes to preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. He may feel very uncomfortable having this discussion with you; suggest an appointment with a doctor if he would rather talk about it with another adult.
Overall, treat your son's feelings with the seriousness they deserve, but also take into consideration that talking about relationship issues before a problem happens, as hard or as uncomfortable as that may be, is still easier than talking about things afterward.
Jennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.
Got your own parenting questions that you’d love to have answered? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.