Adolescence is a transitional phase. Everything is changing. Encouraging and respecting a teen's developing independence while providing the parenting that teen still needs can be challenging. Sometimes, it can be nerve-wracking because there is so much at stake. Mistakes during these years can have lasting repercussions. Pregnancy can make teen relationships particularly consequence-heavy for daughters. Parents can discourage teen romantic relationships before they start through quality communication and a strong parent-child relationship. Once a teen relationship is on the cusp of becoming romantic or a romantic relationship is already in progress, discouraging it becomes more complex. You'll need to use a sensitive, subtle strategy.
1. Talk About it Early
Start talking about relationships and sex long before teen hormones kick in. Make it an ongoing conversation, lasting years, because children learn by “repetition and rehearsal,”as therapist James Lehman, points out. Teach them the mechanics of relationships, how they work and the skills they need, including how to communicate effectively and how to deal with conflict. Talk about the relationships the two of you see in daily life, good and bad. Point out classic behavior patterns, such as those of a potential abuser. Teach your child to spot nonverbal communication, like those between happy couples. Talk about what love is and what it isn't, its different forms and contexts, when it is healthy and when it is not. Discuss your values and how you have arrived at them. Conversations are exchanges. Encourage a child's active participation, listening as respectfully as you would to an adult.
2. Order of Operations
As with building a house or solving a math problem, there is an order of operations involved in the making of a successful, satisfying life. A teen's school years are for learning, not just what's taught in school, but also about herself -- her interests, her strengths -- so she can plan her future and set her education and career goals. Teens with interests, plans and goals are less likely to be sexually active. Opposite-sex friends are one thing, but romantic or sexual pairing off may be better left for young adults. No birth control is perfect, not with human error potential, so it makes sense to delay sex until ready to deal with pregnancy. Well-informed teens with life goals and close parental relationships tend to make safer, smarter choices for themselves regarding the timing of sex and relationships.
3. Don't be Demanding
Discouraging an existing teen relationship must be done with care. It takes place against a backdrop of emotional intensity and the struggle for increased autonomy. Demanding that a teen relationship end can be counterproductive, upping the relationship's emotional intensity and sparking a parent-teen power struggle. These relationships are often among a teen's first fully independent decisions and actions. They'll often go to great lengths to defend their actions and assert their right to make their own choices. Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" has enjoyed centuries of enduring popularity because it touches deep truths about how love feels to teens, its all-encompassing intensity and melodrama, its glorious highs and tragic lows. Try more indirect methods to discourage the relationship first and avoid power struggles as much as possible.
4. Time Management
Try discouraging the relationship without debate or power struggles simply by taking up your teen's time. Focus on exploring and expanding your teen's interests, and focus on communication and relationship building. It's a good time for special lessons or classes. A teen interested in acting can join a local theater group. In earlier generations, an inopportune teen relationship was solved with a tour of Europe or a visit to a distant relative. A summer road trip might be in order, with activities your teen will enjoy. A teen interested in archaeology might enjoy the opportunity to work on a dig site. If the relationship is abusive or otherwise dangerous to your teen, you may have to take direct and quick actions to bring it to a close, followed by individual or family counseling to help prevent similar relationships in the future.
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