OMG, teen romance! It deserves an exclamation point. When my kids started having (gosh) intimate relationships it was equal parts life-affirming and terrifying. Probably more on the terrifying side of things, now that I think about it.
My four offspring are all through high school now (my youngest graduated last year), so we’ve been through the many faces of teen romance and lived to tell the tale. We’ve even had a teen pregnancy grace our family (my 19-almost-20-year-old daughter is due in June), so you can say we have seen it all and then some.
Which brings me to helping parents navigate this rather treacherous space. It is fair to say that you will be damned if you have rules, but considerably more damned if you don’t.
Over the years we learned that having a few rules is tantamount to keeping kids focused on what’s important. And that means what’s important in their life at the time (school, friends, family, hobbies, as well as their new-found larger-than-life love), as well as what’s important about relationships in general.
I will say that some teens are better at following rules than others (ahem), so don’t just ‘set and forget’ these rules for teen romance. Keep talking to your teen about their love life (and their sex life, too – if you can get away with it). Make sure that they understand the reason for any rules you set in place. Perhaps ‘consult’ with them prior to laying down the law, but be prepared to stand your ground. Our eldest son (now 26 years old) fought us particularly hard on rule #3 below, but to my knowledge it never happened…
1. No nudes
Kids can tell me all they like that nudes are the “new way to express love” for your bf/gf. They can argue forever that I’m old-fashioned and I don’t ‘get it’. I don’t care. My rule is no nudes. Don’t ask for them and don’t send them. Even if you trust your bf/gf with your life – which is pretty much what you’re doing if you send them a nude.
There are plenty of reasons for that, not the least of which is that for most teens it’s actually illegal to use your phone or internet to take, keep, look at, send, or ask someone to send sexual images or videos of anyone who is under 18 years of age (or anyone who looks under the age of 18).
Not being a sex predator is enough of a reason, right? But you can also get into the fact that nudes are incredibly easy to share with everyone they know. In fact, at my youngest daughter’s Year 10 formal, a nude of one of her best friends was projected onto the screen for the entire year group to gawk at. They never caught the @**hole who did it, but everyone knew it was her crappy ex boyfriend. Nasty stuff, and sadly not uncommon.
So, the rule is: don’t send nudes and delete them immediately if you receive them.
2. No school nights
Now, I know this is a harsh rule, but it’s in place for a few good reasons. The first is, school nights are busy and a bf/gf can interfere with a good routine. There’s homework, extra-curricular activities and a decent bedtime all to consider. And frankly, I like the time to myself and having extra kids in the house while you’re trying to get everything done is just annoying.
The second reason is that not being able to see your bae during weeknights frees them up to spend time with friends instead.
The third reason is that a weekend-only teen romance can stop things getting too heavy too soon.
Most of the time (though not all), the lovebirds see each other during the week anyway – either on the train, at school, youth group, or wherever they first met up.
So they’ll live until they see each other Friday night.
3. No sleepovers
Until they left school, none of my kids were allowed to have a partner sleep over at home.
Now, I know plenty of people who say things like “I’d rather they were having sex somewhere comfortable” or “better that they’re doing it somewhere safe”, to which I say nope.
It’s a teen romance, they can sneak around like every other teen has had to do before them. Lord knows, at the very least it stops them being able to do the deed as often as they’d like. Less sex equals less chance of pregnancy, I reckon. Says the mother of a pregnant teen – but you know what I mean. Less comfy, less available, means less often.
Side fact – and I’m sure I’m not alone – the idea of my 16-year-old getting his rocks off two doors down from my own is not what I need to keep my own sex life happy. I don’t know how other parents get around that, but I never could. So no sleepovers at mine until they’re adults.
4. No condom, no sex
Never, ever, ever sleep with someone without using a condom. There’s no excuse – doesn’t matter if there are five other forms of contraception happening a the same time, you need a condom as well.
There’s a box of them kept topped-up in the linen cupboard upstairs, if you ever need one. Take as many as you need, it’s a magic box that just keeps filling back up, no questions asked.
5. No, consent is not a ‘grey area’
Consent is not a ‘maybe’ and it’s not an ‘I think so’. It’s either a clear yes or you don’t have sex with that person. That’s the rule, for life.
More on this from Mumlyfe: How to talk to teens about consent (yes, even if it’s awkward AF!)
If it helps other parents to know, all four of my kids navigated the dreaded teen romance years with the requisite tears, tantrums and angst for days.
My eldest hooked up with his fiancé in the summer after Year 12; the youngest had a couple of bfs throughout her high school years, but she broke up with her last during the HSC last year and she’s fine; my youngest middle is expecting a baby with her long-term bf; and then there was my child who didn’t have any teen romances because nobody ever liked her back enough (cue many, many tears and conversations about being worthy just the way you are). She went on to have two terrific flings in her early twenties and is happily single these days.
Which is to say, your kid will get through the dramas of early love – be it unrequited or full-on mutual – and so will you!
Just thought I’d throw in some bonus tips that aren’t exactly rules, but some things to think about.
- Just because they’ve slept with a bf/gf before, doesn’t mean they have to sleep with this one.
- If a bf/gf ‘doesn’t like your friends’, run, Rabbit, run.
- Don’t write anything you wouldn’t be comfortable saying face-to-face (and that includes declarations of love).