Adults are often inclined to be a little dismissive when a young teenager claims to have fallen in love, but teens fall in love for the same reasons adults do. When a teen experiences a combination of physical attraction, emotional intimacy and the intention to be committed to the relationship, what he's experiencing is love, regardless of his age.
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According to an article on the "Kids Health" website, romantic love is defined by the combination of three things. The first is physical or sexual attraction. It might be difficult to accept this if you still think of your teenager as basically a child, but even younger teens can have feelings of physical attraction for other people. The second is emotional intimacy or closeness. Not only can young teens experience a feeling of being emotionally close to someone else, this feeling is likely to be overwhelming when they experience it for the first time in a romantic context. The third is commitment. Young teens are unlikely to be able to genuinely commit to another person for the long term, but a teenager in love may express an intention to stay with the same person for the rest of her life.
Take It Seriously
Parents should be respectful of what their teens are feeling, advises Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., in an article in "Psychology Today." Some parents make the mistake of telling their teen that her feelings aren't the real thing and that she isn't mature enough to experience the depth of emotion an adult would call love. This may be true for many teens. Pickhardt believes that most people don't fall in love for the first time until after their teenage years are over. However, Pickhardt also thinks that about 15 percent of teens do have this experience. Teens as young as 13 may feel like they're falling in love, and in some cases they really might be. Even though few teenage relationships last for very long, that is no reason not to take them seriously.
Is It Love Or Just a Crush?
Some teens might mistake a crush based solely on physical attraction for a deeper emotion of love. To help your teen figure out the difference, ask him whether he has shared his personal secrets and deepest inner feelings with the object of his affections. If the two teens have experienced moments of emotional closeness with each other, it might be love. If he just finds this person attractive and exciting, it's still just a crush.
If your teenager claims to be falling in love, it's important to set guidelines early in the relationship. If you dismiss the relationship as not being really serious, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise if you find out later that your teen has been sexually active. On the other hand, if you try to be too strict and ban your teen from seeing her partner, you could unintentionally encourage her to sneak around or keep the truth from you. The best way to ensure that you have some influence over the situation is to have a talk with your teen about your values and expectations and then to create supervised opportunities for the two of them to spend time with each other.