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A Parent’s Guide to Young Love

Useful tips for how to navigate the turbulent waters or youthful romance

Ah, young love. That marvelous, angst-ridden, terrifying and thrilling experience filled with infatuation, exhilaration and (typically) gut-wrenching breakups. Most parents probably remember it all too well. And yet, they are completely ill-equipped to go through it with their own kids. While first loves are a natural part of development, that doesn’t make them any easier for kids (or parents) to navigate. Here are things to keep in mind when riding shotgun on the emotional rollercoaster of young love.

If a child is so preoccupied with a girlfriend or boyfriend that he or she stops doing homework or is texting too much, that’s cause for concern.

Communication is Key
Conversations about relationships, dating and intimacy should start as early as grade school to inform children about how to have healthy relationships. “This is the beginning of talking about relationships. Parents should be calm about it, because you’ve got to keep that door of communication open,” advises Allison Bates, a registered clinical counselor to Today’s Parent

It’s also important to show genuine interest in your child’s new romantic experience. Whether your first grader is gushing about her playground crush or your tween reveals he has his first girlfriend, try and avoid dismissing the new crush in your child’s life and instead begin talking about it. Be curious and ask questions: “Why do you like that girl or boy?” or “What interests you about her or him? Is she or he funny? Keep in mind that by focusing on what kids value about their crush, they will often see the importance of their own inner qualities.

Set Appropriate Limits to Romance Time
These days, young love tends to be more intense and consuming thanks to social media, mobile phones and almost endless opportunities for communicating with the apple of their eye. But how much is too much? 

Experts advise looking for red flags such as a loss of interest in school, friends or activities, which warrants a conversation about how balance is important for your child's well-being and future. “If a child is so preoccupied with a girlfriend or boyfriend that he or she stops doing homework or is texting too much, that’s cause for concern,” Janine Jones, Ph.D., a University of Washington child psychologist explains to Parent Map

Some of these challenges can be avoided by being prepared ahead of time and discussing expectations with your child. When kids know what their parents expect, they are more likely to conform to it (as long as it isn’t so strict and unreasonable that they want to rebel). 

Handling Heartbreak
More likely than not, your child will experience heartbreak with a first love, which will be painful for all involved. As adults, we have the perspective to know a breakup isn’t the end of the world and they will have many more relationships to come, but those things are difficult to hear for the inexperienced. So, how can parents pick up the pieces of their kid’s broken hearts? 

Be there for them. Let them cry, let them talk, and let them be. It’s okay if they hole up in their room sobbing to a song on repeat or if they’re a little more snippy than usual. It’s also normal if they shut down – just remind them that you are there for them if they need you. Everyone processes things differently.

When it feels right, try and get them out of the breakup funk by planning something special with their friends or arranging to do something out of the ordinary with them. Remind them that they have a lot of great things in their life to be happy about, or if this is hard to do, brainstorm ways to help your child re-engage with the world in a positive, healthy way.