Relationships can be more intense for teens often because they are highly attuned to what others might be thinking of them, but also because the adolescent brain is ‘a work in progress’.

As parents, we are familiar with the physical changes but not too familiar with the very crucial social and emotional changes. Falling in love is an emotional upheaval at any age, but for teenagers the feelings are likely to be even more difficult to manage. 

Hormonal changes play a huge part in the intense feelings of sexual attraction and falling in love. Testosterone and oestrogen are associated with heightened sexual urges, while other hormones are implicated in attachment and bonding. During puberty, the volume of these hormones in the body rises dramatically and can trigger more negative and unpredictable moods. Emotions associated with being ‘in love’ or ‘in lust’ are likely to be confused and confusing, even overwhelming for some.

Falling in love takes some getting used to, all those different emotions, mood swings, and desires. Nevertheless, through their romantic relationships, adolescents grow into adults as they learn about themselves and other people, gain experience in how to manage these feelings and develop the skills of intimacy.

This ‘stage’ can be difficult for parents but here’s how you can learn to accept, understand and communicate with your child in ‘teen love’ situations.

  • Communicate. Uncomfortable as you may be about love and relationships, you must make the effort to step out of your comfort zone as a parent. Teens require you to be open-minded. This creates an emotionally safe space for discussion, sharing and problem-solving. Talk to them about infatuation, romance and sexual attraction.
  • Avoid harsh punishments as they only serve to make the child even less connected with you and more dependent on the romantic relationship for comfort.
  • Encourage your teen to move in mixed friend groups of boys and girls.
  • Invite your child’s friends to your home often, and spend time getting to know them.
  • Define clear boundaries of behaviour for your child. Make your expectations clear and emphasise your family values.
  • Set clear rules about outings with friends – who they are going out with, where to, and most importantly when they will return. Allow your child to negotiate fairly with you. Clearly state the non-negotiable rules.
  • Be firm in enforcing the consequences of breaking rules.You could even let your child decide on the consequences they will have to face if they break them. 
  • Talk to your child when you find them getting close to a particular friend and ask about what draws them to each other. 
  • Maintain a trusting and warm relationship with your child, as then it leaves little room for lies and sneaky plans. In fact, a strong parent-child relationship meets the child’s need for unconditional acceptance, attention, recognition, and appreciation. If these needs are not met at home, the child will easily respond to anyone else who makes them feel wanted and important.
  • Avoid judging and condemning their friends who are in a romantic relationship. It does not necessarily mean that your child will do the same. However, let your child know that they can talk to you freely about such relationships. Give them the confidence to confide in you.
  • Teach your child about self-respect and their right to be respected; and why it’s important to pull away from a disrespectful friendship or relationship.
  • Expect a few mistakes, when you give freedom with limits. Be forgiving. 
  • Be aware of your own views and how they influence your thinking. Be informed by them, but also realise that they can prevent you from being open-minded and objective in discussions.

Changes in adolescence are a natural process of a child’s growth and development. They have a purpose as your child goes through a period of intense self-discovery and you must facilitate that journey in the best way you can. Parenting an adolescent can be challenging but we also know that with the right support, it can be very rewarding…