Every parent dreads the teenage years for so many reasons. From dating to FOMO to social media shaming, life was easier 30 years ago before the internet, SnapChat, and texting. Our teens’ lives play out in a sequence of video clips and edited pictures that we are powerless to stop. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I know the deep-in-your-stomach pain that hearing your child crying in their room evokes. I know the hurt that even the most civil of breakups can cause.
After watching three daughters navigate the murky waters of teen relationships and dating in the 21st century, here’s what I want dating teens to know:
1. No matter what, you matter to me.
No really, you are my world. You matter to me in the biggest, deepest way. I value you and all of your mistakes and virtues. You’re not perfect. You have definitely screwed up more than a few times and I see it, but I love you unconditionally with my whole heart and I am here to hug you and to show you where you veered off course. We’ll get back on the right track. “Lessons learned,” we like to call them, and lessons need to be learned on both sides.
2. Take chances! Now is the time to date the person that makes you jittery.
Don’t settle for the one that asks you out. Now is the time to shoot your shot and aim for the person that makes you nervous and jittery. Your teen years are about dating and experiences, not settling down for the rest of your life. I once worked for an awe-inspiring salesman and he taught me a lesson I wish I had learned when I was 15 years old: Ask for what you want. It’s that simple. The time is now, take chances. Go talk to the person you think is out of your league or a bit different than your social circle — whatever it is that intrigues you, go find it. You’ll never know unless you try. Carpe Diem.
3. You’re fine all on your own. You don’t need anyone to complete you.
You don’t need a plus-one to be okay. This one seems simple right? You have your family, your support system, your counselor — whatever it may be that keeps you on the straight and narrow. You are fine on your own. You, as a singular human being, have everything you need to get through this life and be successful. Your relationships that go beyond friendships need to be enjoyable to be worth it.
Anyone or anything that makes you feel inferior, controlled, or not important is an absolute throw away. Hear me again: a throw-away, as in throw them away and move on. You deserve to be acknowledged and heard — no matter what, all of the time. If someone isn’t listening to you or believing in you, see them for who they are and be on your way.
I had a geometry teacher in high school who pulled a bunch of cocky, not listening students aside. We weren’t there to learn, we were there to “not get” geometry. He asked us one question and I still think about it today: “What do you do with a horse that won’t move?” and then he walked away. You walk away too because you deserve to be heard. Feelings matter among equals. Voices are heard across board rooms and corporations. Equals communicate, period. Never settle for less.
4. The world doesn’t revolve around you.
As a mom, I may have misguided you here because my world did indeed revolve around you for a very long time, and it still kind of does, but I try not to show it. The truth is, the attention you crave from your partner is craved by your partner. What? Yeah, it’s true. You have to listen too. You have to be sensitive too. Guess what? You aren’t always right either. Own your baggage. Take responsibility when you screw up. Pick yourself up and learn your lesson. Hurting other people is a tough pill to swallow. Know the difference between being right and winning at all costs. One of them will leave you feeling hollow, the other will leave you being true to yourself. It’s a super fine line. Walk it and always see it.
5. Significant others are going to let you down.
So that super cute boyfriend/girlfriend you had a month ago, the one who was treating you so well and wanted to spend every waking second with you has cooled off and he isn’t coming around anymore. You’re devastated and I’m assembling a voodoo doll of them in my closet hoping to bring some pain their way (okay, not really, but, wow, how great would that be?). But seriously, take a minute and remember how this hurt feels. Drink it in and let it register where you will never forget it because it’s not the last time you’ll feel this way.
Yes, you trusted them. You thought those feelings were “real” and they weren’t. Gosh, I’m sorry. I would do anything to take this pain away, but you need to feel it. You need to know it so you can think twice or twenty times before you go that far with your next partner.
Sex is a real thing. Intimacy means something. Make darned sure that person means something to you, because tomorrow they may be posting selfies with one of your friends on their private SnapChat story. Think long and hard before you take that relationship to the next level because you matter to me (see #1) and I care about your self-worth (see #3). Make sure the people you take your clothes off with see your self-worth too, and if they don’t, move on, because you matter to me and I want you to matter to you.
6. Trust your gut.
Go with your gut. Be your gut. I mean it, get in tune with your gut. Call it your instinct, your intuition — call it whatever you want, but recognize it. As a young reporter, an LAPD officer told me to never ignore my gut. When something tells you to get out of that elevator or not to walk to your car alone, listen. Society molds you to tune out this internal safety mechanism — don’t. That voice in your head questioning where your partner actually is is right. That weird vibe you pick up on when you see your partner with another person, that’s real too. You’re not being ridiculous. You’re intelligent and rational and smart. Don’t forget that. Your gut is right on, every single time. Trust me, trust it!
7. That friend you are so grateful for still matters.
Value your friendships as much as your favorite Brandy Melville crop top! No really, your friends matter. Don’t lose your friends because you are too entangled with your new partner. My daughter started a new high school last year and she knew one person there. On day three, she came to the car ready to tell me about how great her day was because a boy called her by her name, asked if she played volleyball, and asked her to grab him a glue stick. This small effort made her feel recognized and depended on. At that moment, she was a person with a name. He made her happy with such a small gesture. She is still friends with “the glue stick guy” today. Reach out to people even when you don’t know them and invest in those around you. Remember that we are all working and evolving. Value your friends they are the ones who will get through those difficult times.
8. People are allowed to change their minds and they are allowed to not want to be with you anymore.
It’s never fun to be broken up with. It hurts pretty bad when someone decides not to love you anymore. It’s totally and completely allowed. Take your loss with grace and refrain from texting and loitering in places where your ex-partner will be. It’s time to move on and it’s time to spend time with your friends and people who want to be around you (see #7). When you’re the one who changes your mind and you fall out of love with someone first, remember this pain and be gentle with your now ex-partner (see #5). It hurts both ways, be patient.
9. Be kind always.
Whether you initiate the breakup or your partner does, it’s painful. Try really hard not to lash out in anger or jealousy. Stand your ground, don’t be a pushover and say your peace for sure. But try super hard not to hit below the belt, because later you’ll wish you didn’t.
10. Be the person you want others to be.
So easy to understand. So completely difficult to achieve. Try, really, really hard to be a good person. We’re all rooting for you because, well, see #1.