Before our kids were teens we thought we had it all figured out. We had a plan. Then we realized that the more we got to know our teens and their friends, the less that we knew about dating today. Its changed a lot, but here are a few things I’ve figured out.
1. Teens need the sex talk early and often. I don’t think I began to talk about sex or know a thing about it till eighth grade. So far, with my oldest two we had the talk in the fourth grade. I was told by someone older and wiser long ago, that when they were old enough to ask the right question, you answered it correctly. For example, when “God gives a mommy a baby” doesn’t fit the question any longer or you get asked “how” then it’s time to go further. For both of my oldest, the “how” or “what is sex” question came up in the fourth grade. Since then, any time a TV show, text message, or conversation prompts into something more, I set my embarrassment aside and talk about it. I do this even when my kids friends are around and I’ve been so surprised in the tings teenagers will ask me, both my own kids and their friends. We’ve talked about it all. Occasionally the question will be about me or what I did, and I also feel the freedom to say “none of your business”. They want open dialogue, and trust me, they are all talking about sex and the opposite sex all the time. As a parent, you want to be a part of the conversation, and if you allow it, they will let you be. But you have to be willing to be real and say “yeah, I get that, it’s normal to feel that way, I did, and it was hard”, and not wig out.
2. Kids don’t date anymore. Teens today don’t do casual dating. I remember saying to my daughter “you don’t need a serious relationship in High School. Go on a date or two, go out with one guy this night and another the next night. Keep it casual, crush on a couple of boys, test your options. Don’t be kissing several boys or anything, but going on a date doesn’t have to be a commitment”. She looked at me like I had seven heads and asked if I was trying to tell her to be a slut. Truly! Teens today are not casual about dating. Sadly, they are casual about hooking up, and unless you’re ok with being seen as the kind of girl who hooks up with different boys at outings and parties (which is usually sexual in nature, and totally socially acceptable by the way), then you don’t do casual. In this case I’m glad my daughter doesn’t want to do casual. Dating is about commitment, dating is about deciding if your ready to be exclusive. Talking (which is really texting, social media, and chatting at parties and group outings) is what you do to test the waters, and has replaced casual dating. Oh, and initiated conversation shows interest… but then, that’s always been the case.
3. Teenagers are way gutsier with a phone or computer between them. You would be shocked at they things kids will send, say, and do over text, Instagram, Skype, etc. To them, that’s not real life, it’s like a cyber life. I have a family member and a friend who have both been high school principals and both have appalling stories of the things they’ve heard and seen on students phones. I am TOTALLY one of those mom’s (sadly a rare breed might I add) who has their kids phones set to download all pics to the cloud, and who shamelessly peruses their texts and social media. My teens know I do it (and just like reality TV, where people forget the cameras are on them, so do my kids), and it has been a great source of training and spurred some awesome conversation. Our kids are holding the world at their fingertips and their brains, self control, and maturity are not ready for it. OH AND DID I FORGET TO MENTION, THEIR HORMONES ARE RAGING!!!! They need help because once they leave our house, we don’t ever get to know what they don’t tell us. We won’t be there to creep through their phones, to ask good questions, and hope for good answers; our training time will be over. So use the time you’ve got.
4. They need their freedom too. I don’t read EVERYTHING on my teens phones and computers, spending hours and hours combing through every detail of their lives and conversations. I just pay attention to who they spend their time with, the kind of conversations they have, the kind of people they hang out with, glance through their browsing history, and mainly just keep my eyes open. I have conversations with them when they need to be had and then I let go…because they have to have the freedom to make those good choices, and even the freedom to make mistakes and test their limits. Sure it’s terrifying, but they have to learn to be adults on their own. Because when your coaching and training for something, you run through scrimmages and real life situations. This is our scrimmage. So yes, I let my kids date (at an appropriate age), I let them go on group outings, and I let them mess up and try really hard not to kill them for it, because the truth is, mistakes are how we learn. So we teach through mistakes. Plus, trapped stifled kids, often become rebellious kids.
5. Adolecants today have a more unrealistic idea of love and sex than ever before. I know, duh! But it must be said. Having all media outlets at their fingertips means more unrealistic expectations than any generation before them. Sex is everywhere; songs, tv shows, video games, billboards, everywhere! Of course it’s always been everywhere, it just gets more overt every year. And when your kid tells you that almost everyone they know is having sex, believe them! Because sex is in their faces all the time. It’s super casual. Not to mention that pornography is more readily available than any generation before. Visual young men have a plethora of porn just a click away (especially if no ones monitoring it), filled with unhealthy and unrealistic sexual images and behavior. Leaving both sexes with unreal expectations. Young women think fifty shades of crazy is what men want, and young men think these images are a sexual norm. And since every teen girl in the history of ever still wants her life to become a sappy teen romance, with wildly overdramatic romantic gestures by sensitive boys willing to be vulnerable and even rebellious in the name of love, teen girls will do almost anything to try and get it. I have to constantly remind my teens when we are watching TV or a movie (and we watch tame stuff), “that isn’t real- no one looks like that, acts like that, dresses like that, etc- in real life”.
Being a teen is harder than ever before. Dating is harder than ever before. And I don’t see any of it getting easier. So let’s keep those lines of communication open, pray often, and drink lots of wine.