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3/10/19blog post

5 tips for when your teen starts dating

Our relationships with our friends and family bring the most meaning and fun to our lives. They are also the most painful.

Disappointments in relationships are one of the more common triggers of suicide attempts by teens.  Some are romantic relationships that go awry, while others are related to parents and peers.  Relationships are a challenge for all of us, but more so for teens who feel both love and anguish so intensely.

These kids have experienced the powerful emotions when you are attracted to another person. They’ve enjoyed the laughter and companionship, and that feeling when someone truly understands the real you, without the phoniness and masks that most of us wear throughout the day.  They feel accepted, invigorated, challenged, and safe. They feel loved.

Tough stuff comes with such good times. Relationships inevitably involve disappointments, conflict, and hurt. The pain feels intense and endless. Some kids think that death is the only remedy to end the sadness.

Adults know that bad times (and good times) will pass. We know that the idealized love captured on a Hallmark card doesn’t represent real life. Life is both love and pain.

When kids begin dating, I offer them the following guidance about romantic relationships.

  1. Find someone nice. It’s important to pay attention not only to how the other person treats you, but how they interact with others, and that includes their parents, teachers, and the less popular kids at school.
  2. Is this person emotionally stable?  Adolescence is a time when it feels as if you have little control over your emotions, but you do. Avoid relationships that involve lots of drama and emotional outbursts. It’s not a good indicator for the viability of a long-term relationship if your romantic partner gets easily upset or angry.
  3. Do you have shared values?  Aside from the physical attraction, it’s nice to be around people who share your interests and values. You need not have the same tastes in music or YouTube videos, but there needs to be fundamental congruence in underlying values for that relationship to develop.
  4. Is this person positive? Bad stuff happens to us every day. Positive people are good at doing two things. They don’t overreact, having the ability to put today’s frustrations in a broader context. Second, they deal with difficulties, rather than whining about them endlessly. They have a sense of gratitude for what is good, rather than lamenting for an idealized world.
  5. Act upon any indicator of a toxic temperament.  Here’s my list---any emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of you or others, drug use, lying or deceitfulness. End the relationship if your partner exhibits any those symptoms.