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Handling First Love

 “It came on fairly suddenly,”  states Mom Janelle Kelsey.  “When Madison got to middle school, suddenly everything was boys,boys, boys. I was totally unprepared!” It often starts with an innocent admiration in elementary school.  But it’s not long before the boy or girl crazy years get underway.  As a parent, you want to arm your child with the ability to make sound decisions that will lead to positive relationships down the road.

Teach Them How to Choose Their Friends

Don’t completely dismiss your preteen when they confide they ‘like’ a boy or girl. Resist the urge to chuckle or tease, and use this opportunity to open the lines of communication. What’s the focus of their attraction?  Is your son smitten with a girl who’s always nice to him?  Does your daughter swoon for the class athlete? If your son admits that Suzie’s golden hair is what’s got his attention, acknowledge his good taste, and then talk about what qualities make a good friend. Is Suzie a nice person?  Does she share his interests?  

As your child grows older, let the depth of your conversation grow as well. The information you’re giving could help them choose their potential dating partners, as well as the teenage ‘crowd’ they’ll interact with.

It’s inevitable that your child may date a friend or romantic interest that you don’t approve of.  Provided the situation is not dangerous, try to talk it out with your child. Rona Levi, LCSW-C at the Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland, suggests: “Be sure to show your support of the fact that they’re growing up, and making independent decisions. But at the same time, talk about your concerns; explain why this choice isn’t right for them. Try to get your child to talk, as well, instead of just lecturing to them.”  

Keep One Eye on Self Esteem

At any age it’s important to boost your child’s opinion of themselves, and even more so when they begin dating. A child with a high sense of self-worth is likely to make more careful choices. Help your child to recognize the things they do well. This will also help them mingle with peers with whom they share a common interest.
Genuine praise from parents can do a lot to raise a child’s self-esteem. “Look for areas where you can praise your child,”  offers Levi.  “Skills and sports are fine, but look beyond that as well.  What areas of their personality do you admire?  Kindness to their sibling,  helpful behavior?”

Keep Communication Open

As early teens begin to experiment with independence, new situations arise and new rules need to be established. Going to the mall unattended, bringing friends into their room, and other issues should be discussed together. For best results, come up with boundaries you both are comfortable with, and encourage your child to come to you with problems.

In spite of your best intentions, it’s inevitable that your child may bend the rules. Shemica Cole, LGSW at the Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland, suggests the use of a “reset” button to help your child talk honestly with you.  “When discussing an issue of importance, and you suspect your teen isn’t being honest, allow them to use of a Reset Button. This enables them to back up and tell you what really happened.  Another time you can focus on the lying. Right now you need to move forward in a healthy manner and find out the truth.”

The preteen years offer new challenges to parents, and solutions aren’t as easily as giving an extra kiss or locating a certain toy.  But with new challenges come the joys of seeing your child develop the skills that will make them a successful adult.

Need Some Insight into your Budding Teenager? 

Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager ,
by Anthony E. Wolf

The Tween Years : A Parent’s Guide for Surviving Those Terrific, Turbulent, and Trying Times
, by Donna G. Corwin

Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young, by Dr. Peter Marshall

Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland



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