Gone is the class ring on a chain around a girl’s neck to signify that she’s “going steady” with a boy. Today’s teens have a more complex way of dating that many parents don’t quite understand.
Remember when a boy asked a girl out on a date, rang the doorbell, met her parents and the young couple went to dinner and a movie? Teens today have different views on dating than we did — and navigating the world of teen relationships is a whole new ballgame. How can parents stay in the loop and help their teens develop healthy romantic relationships?
Face time or tech time?
One of the biggest differences in teen relationships is obviously technology-related. Teens may initially start one-on-one conversations through texts or social media sites like SnapChat or Twitter. Flirting and social banter can continue all hours of the day and night, leading today’s teens to have little time to themselves. Parents should talk to their teens about the importance of face-to-face conversations in developing a real-life relationship. The boy who wants to text your daughter from his car at the curb needs to come to your door and meet you face-to-face before they leave for their date.
One of the most important dating cues missing from the overuse of technology is body language. “We text all the time,” shares a 17-year-old teen boy who has a girlfriend — he thinks. “But I am not sure if she thinks we’re a couple, or when I do see her in person if I should try to kiss her or not.” Subtle body language and flirting is lost when texting is your number one method of communication.
Does the world seem more sexual to you than when you were a teen? Bisexuality has become more commonplace, according to Scott Carroll, M.D., director of psychiatric consultation services at University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital. “The most striking change I have seen over that time is around sexual orientation, especially with an explosion of girls being bisexual,” he says. Dr. Carroll has worked with tweens and teens for 15 years and has seen this trend grow. “Bisexuality and homosexuality in girls is around 50 percent in my area,” he adds. “Many of the bisexual girls openly have both a girlfriend and boyfriend at the same time. In fact it is so common here that it is passé.” The portrayal of lesbian or bisexual acts in mainstream music videos, television shows and other media has changed the way women see their sexuality — and experimentation with sexual relationships with both sexes seems to be more accepted, at least with girls.
If you were a teen in the ’80s or ’90s, chances are you didn’t know anyone your age that was openly homosexual and dating a same-sex partner. But times have really changed now, and your teen can probably name several classmates or friends who are openly gay — which changes the dating dynamic for gay teens who may feel they are able to “come out” to their peers and have a dating life, too. “Boys, on the other hand, don’t show nearly as much bisexuality, but the homosexual boys are often coming out in middle school or the beginning of high school now,” shares Dr. Carroll. “Plus, the homosexual boys are openly in relationships in high school now and their peers are generally comfortable with it. This is not the case as much with the boys in the rural areas of my state, but the girls are leading the way even there,” he adds.
What about sex?
As far as sex amongst teens goes, there seems to be a wide range between what’s considered “acceptable” behavior by teen peers and what might be considered too promiscuous. We asked a 16-year-old girl from New York if casual hook-ups for sex among teens are common in her area. She shared that casual sex is pretty common within her peer group, and that it’s not really looked down upon. We wondered if she and her peers found it difficult to find someone interested in developing a committed relationship. “Yeah, but I don’t think it’s because everyone wants to be having casual sex,” she shares. Another teen said that while many girls may hope for a one-to-one exclusive relationship with a boy, many of the boys aren’t buying in. “So the casual sex becomes a way for girls to feel connected to a boy, even if it’s temporary,” she says.
Dr. Carroll shared his experience in his area, halfway across the country. “As for sex and hookups, the teens in my area are having sex, but it is mostly in the context of an exclusive relationship, not as a casual hookup,” he shares. “As in the case of bisexual girls, they may have both a boyfriend and a girlfriend, but they only have sex with the two of them — and not as a threesome — and no one else. I find casual hookups more common in young adults in college or their early 20s or older,” he adds. “Major urban areas have more hookup sex in teens I hear, but I’m not seeing it so much in my area.”
Dating may be completely different than when we were teens, but parents still need to stay involved.
- Make it a rule that you need to meet anyone your teen is spending alone time with.
- Talk often about your feelings on sexuality with your teen, without making it a lecture.
- Ask questions about what type of people make your teen feel good about themselves.
- Keep an eye on social media and texting use to make sure it doesn’t become excessive.
- Watch for signs of dating violence.