Exploration is a normal part of teen years.
My soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old daughter is gearing up for a boyfriend upgrade. I must confess I liked version 1.0. Despite the fact that he ate only Mac-N-Cheese and Mac-without-the cheese, I was sad to see this gentlemanly scholar-athlete parked in the friend zone. But I suspect I may like version 2.0, or 3.0 too—if or when those upgrades take place.
Satire aside, while I feel pretty good about what I’ve taught my girls about dating, respect and sex, I must say I’m conflicted about relationships. At what point should they just date or casually see lots of different young men (or partners) and at what point should they focus their time and energies on just one?
Especially when I get to weather the breakups? Especially when we humans seem to be hardwired for one-on-one relationships? And, how are young people supposed to know what they eventually (very eventually) want in a life partner without actually really getting to know a handful of prospects up close?
I recall lunching with a friend once who announced in all earnestness that her daughter would not be allowed to date until she went to college. I almost choked on an olive. She was serious. Given her cultural heritage, I was uncertain if the decision was cultural or personal. All night I twisted and turned in my sleep.
Wouldn’t you want to be there when she comes home after her first kiss? I did.
And what about the first breakup? Of course, I want my shoulders to be the first cried on.
The teacher in me decided that just like learning math and writing, kids need guided practice at relationships.
- Relationships without guidance can leave teens feeling trapped.
In allowing them to date and try out different relationships, I can pick up on: the relational cues that my tender unpracticed child cannot; the subtle or sometimes unsubtle language used when one person tries to control or degrade another; or to help her put into perspective what her friends and peers say about relationships that may or may not be right for her.
With the first boyfriend, I was able point out how much we appreciated that he studied with our daughter and took time at our table even if he didn’t eat “that vegetarian stuff.”
But, the most important? Spending time with him and the two of them gave us a good sense of his moral compass and their relationship dynamic.
None of which would be possible if she waited until college to date or have a relationship. That much I know.
I don’t have all the answers. But, for today that’s enough.
Who knows? By tomorrow maybe my daughter and version 1.0 will have found the keys to getting themselves moving out of where they’re parked in the friend zone.
If so, I’ll need to rev up my Mac-N-Cheese skills again and refrain from reminding the fondly-thought-of 1.0 that Mac-N-Cheese IS vegetarian.