Years ago, when my wife was teasing my then thirteen-year-old son about maybe having a girlfriend (he didn’t, she was just making a joke in the moment), I gave her my sincere opinion on the subject. I said I’m in no hurry to get into that phase of their lives. She looked at me perplexed, knowing she was only teasing him, but at the same time was curious as to why there was so much reluctance on my part.
I waited till we were in private and I explained my feelings—that once a teenager, boy or girl, enters that phase of their life everything begins to get complicated. Hormones are raging, Endorphins, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Dopamine are on the rise and all sense of normalcy is lost. Their minds become captivated completely by their “relationship” and everything else takes a back seat. Depending on the situation, school work can suffer, as their attention is diverted to other, what they consider “more important” things. Their time, which is already in short supply, is now gobbled up in constant communication with the “love of their life.”
And that brings me to another concern I have for this latest generation. When I grew up, the only way we could talk to our significant others was by telephone or in-person. If we wanted to know where they were at all times (an unhealthy practice, I might add) we had either to wait till they got home and called us, or we relied on friends who may have seen them around. Not so today, with the availability of smartphones with GPS tracking, teens can track each other’s every move throughout the day and night, 24/7. In addition, most of the time there is a pictorial or video record of many of their experiences on Facebook and Snapchat among others.
One would wonder if the sheer existence of technology that allows for this type of constant monitoring doesn’t make the relationship seem more like an addiction than an actual relationship. Add in the dynamic of both parties being young teens (whose minds won’t fully develop until their early twenties) and the situation becomes even more complicated. After all, how can they tell the difference between relationship addiction and true love?
This is an issue of concern for teens today. In my day of landlines and personal interaction, I think one could sense better where the relationship was going. There was more free time in-between to be you and have other things going on in your life. Today, a toxic teen relationship can be perpetuated and nurtured through the constant contact and distraction away from everything else that used to go on in their lives before the couple was formed. They don’t realize this, because there’s not enough life outside the relationship to see what’s actually happening to them. As a result, they may spend more time in the wrong relationships than they should and have less time to find the right one.
A Pew Research study of over a thousand teenagers (ages 13-17) found that nearly a third of those surveyed indicated that “social media makes them feel more connected to what is happening in their significant other’s life.” That same number also admitted their “current or former partners have checked up on them multiple times per day via the Internet or cell phone.” When it comes to texting, 15% of teens in relationships said “their current or former partners expected to hear from them hourly, while 88% said at least once per day.”
Another concern arises when the relationship goes sour. Social media and texting can be an easier avenue to vent your frustration in ways you would never do in person. Again, the Pew Research found that 27% advised that “social media can make them feel jealous or unsure about their relationship,” adding, 22% have used the Internet or texting as a way of putting their “ex-” down and “saying mean things to them.”
When it’s all said and done, what’s a parent to do? Unfortunately, the old-school method still applies today in most cases. You just need to be there with a listening ear, a strong shoulder to lean on, and provide gentle encouragement as needed. You can advise them on healthy and unhealthy relationships, perhaps using some of your own experiences as examples (being careful here of how much you share), and defining the differences between love and infatuation. Finally, remind them to keep their friends close (a common mistake) and stay true to who they really are in the relationship. Regrettably, however, this is one of those parts of life they’ll no doubt navigate mainly on their own; and that can be just as hard on the parents as it is on the teen.