18, College and First Love – Oh My!

When you read the title of this blog, I hope you do so in the same sing-song manner as if you were watching “The Wizard Of Oz” and the gang is frightened while on the road to the Emerald City and singing “lions, tigers and bears, OH MY! lions, tigers and bears, OH MY!” but now say “18, College and First Love, OH MY!”

My purpose of writing this blog is that I often see loving and nurturing parents stunting their youth’s normal development in the area of dating and every summer, I worry about those graduates who will be headed off to college like sheep to a slaughter. The idea that parents are sheltering their children from experiencing the NORMAL developmental stages of attraction can be controversial because for every opinion there is a counter-opinion. Since this is my blog, I will share with you my opinion; throw it into the mix of others out there and the reader can decide for themselves what works for their own children.

I had been planning to write this blog all week and like many people, I was busy and just never got around to it and then poof! out came the headlines about a young woman getting married after “supervised courting” and receiving her first kiss as a married person. Now, I had no intention of piggy-backing these headlines with this blog but the timing works, I suppose.

Do I think it’s fabulous that a young couple got married in a way that works for them? Absolutely. As a counselor, even a Christian counselor, do I recommend a similar courtship for all young adults? Absolutely not. I don’t know the young couple (I am referring to the Duggar daughter and by the way, 19 kids is a lot in my opinion) so I can’t say whether it will work for them or not. What I do know is that I would be terrified to send my own young adult off into the world, especially college life, without knowing first hand that he or she knows how to handle all the emotional strings that come along with falling in love.

I believe that there are stages to normal development that must be experienced along the path as a tween becomes a teen and a teen becomes an adult. I do not agree with saving all the experiences for when the youth is a “magical” age of 16 years or 18 years old. I get very nervous when parents tell me that they will allow their teen to date at 16 years old and not a moment before. Let’s think about this…give the youth a car, car keys, a long-awaited love interest, no experience in setting boundaries in real life situations as opposed to hypothetical scenarios and that sounds like a good idea? Not to me. What does sound like a good idea to me is to parcel out small dosages of “dating” and “being in love” experiences as is right for the tween/teen and let each experience serve as an opportunity for parents and children to have honest conversations.

This year by 4th grade son said that he wanted to buy a Valentine’s Day gift for two girls at school. We talked about why he wanted to buy them each a gift, what it would mean to the girls and since the girls were friends would that cause conflict, etc. It was a wonderful discussion about friendships and boy/girl expectations. Eventually he decided that buying just one gift for a girl was a better idea (that was probably after we did a pre-purchase swing through Kohl’s to see just how much of his allowance he would have to shell out on these gifts). He and I talked about whether the girl’s parents would be ok with her receiving a Valentine’s Day gift as a 4th grader and I directed him to ask the girl beforehand and have her ask her parents. Once it was confirmed that she was allowed, he and I went back to Kohl’s with enough of his allowance saved up and he began the process of buying his first treasure for a girl; which is a normal desire that I want to foster in raising a gentleman.

The time at Kohl’s also served as a great learning opportunity because he was drawn to the flashiest, largest, gaudiest jewelry Kohl’s had to offer during the month of February. He said the girl liked “sparkle” so he was going for a lot of sparkle! But I explained she was a young girl who deserved something that was sweet and dainty, like her. He understood what I was saying and ultimately selected a very pretty little Cross.  He knew the girl was a Christian because since that was a quality that was important to him, he had on his own gained this knowledge at school one day. You should have seen the tender care in which he carried the little bag that held this precious possession he had selected and bought with his own money for a girl he thought was very special, in a 4th grade way. I believe all that to be really normal and healthy. Some other adults might disagree but there were so many amazing conversations that took place during this Valentine’s Day purchase that I am so glad my son, and us as his parents, didn’t miss out on them.

Each parent has to decide what is right for their family. That’s the bottom line. As a therapist and a mom, I really want to see young adults launch off to college-life away from parents watchful eyes already having had the experience of learning boundaries even while in love, having learned the art of balancing school work and a love interest, having learned what is an unhealthy relationship and how to leave it when necessary and on and on. Keeping our youth from dating at all until they are 16 years or 18 years old or only dating towards marriage (which is another topic for another blog, but I completely disagree with this philosophy) only delays the developmental stages that all youth must go through as it relates to healthy attraction to their peers. I would much rather a 12, 14, 16 year old act their age, than have an 18, 20 or 25 year old acting much younger than their chronological age because they were never allowed to develop normally.

What are your thoughts about preparing young adults for dating life?

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