Recently, a mother asked me for advice on how to keep her teenage daughter, who just started dating, from getting hurt. First, I assured her that her daughter will get hurt. I don’t know anyone who has loved without pain.
Even more important than trying to avoid pain is helping our sons and daughters (and ourselves) to know that they are strong, capable, and powerful and that they can overcome hurt. Resiliency, self-respect, self-esteem, confidence, perseverance, and wisdom are the things to focus on instilling in your children, as these things will both help them to avoid pain and to recover from it quickly.
What breaks my heart is to hear young women and men think that their lives are over when someone breaks up with them or doesn’t love them in return. The music they listen to is full of codependent messages with variations on the theme, “I can’t live without you.” The truth is that they can live without “him” or “her.” We are misled in our society to think there is only one person out there for us, only one soul mate—only one great love. The truth is that out of millions of people there are far more than one with whom we can have a wonderful spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual connection.
With that said, there are some tidbits of advice for our teenagers and young adults that can help them in the realm of young love:
- Know that your first love, and even your second love, and maybe even your third love and beyond are very unlikely to be your last(ing) love. So often teens start dreaming about happily-ever-after with the first person they date, which is understandable, but not realistic. While it does happen, it is not likely. Remember as you are dating that this is A love, not THE love and there will always be MORE love. Love is abundant, not scarce. Any scarcity we experience is not based on the truth about love, it is based on our inability to access it.
- Don’t let anyone tell you that “Puppy Love” isn’t real. It is real. Love is love, it doesn’t matter how old you are when you feel it and shouldn’t be dismissed as “less than” love. I still remember the boys that were the object of my “puppy love” and it was, perhaps, some of the purest love of my life. Rejoice in it. HOWEVER, don’t think that you have to make it last and don’t think that your love needs to be expressed the same way adult romantic love is expressed. Just as the love is real, the choices you make can bring about real consequences that will affect the entire rest of your life.
- If you are looking for love, don’t mistake sex as the same thing. It isn’t. While “making love,” may make you feel loving, it won’t necessarily make you feel loved. If it is just sex, it is like eating ice cream when you are hungry. It tastes good at the time, but it doesn’t nourish you. Then it often makes you feel worse shortly thereafter, because what your body was really craving was something healthy.
- Remember that every action has a consequence. If you aren’t mature enough to handle the potential consequence (pregnancy, STD’s, heartbreak)—or your partner isn’t responsible enough— then you aren’t mature enough to do the deed.
Resiliency, so that we can bounce back after we have been hurt, is a critical relationship skill. Help your children identify their many good qualities, talents and strengths. Explore and encourage the long list of things they want to do, learn and create and all the things they love about life —beyond other people. This will help them remember what they have to live for when they get hurt.
While avoiding unnecessary pain is a trait of wisdom, being afraid of pain can be paralyzing. Go forth and love—wisely.
Share your tips! What did you learn about love from being a teen?