Adolescence is a tough time for parents as well as children. As kids grow and mature, they begin identifying more heavily with their peers than with their parents. Eventually, they feel ready to move beyond simple friendships into dating relationships. Although it's true that some people marry their high school sweethearts, adolescent relationships often operate much differently than those of adults.
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According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, adolescence is marked by the search for an identity. Around age 19, young adults move into the search for intimacy. Therefore, teen relationships are often based around the partner as a reflection of the self, while young adult relationships focus on long-term compatibility between partners. However, these ages are not set in stone. Many younger teens look for long-term, serious relationships, while many young adults continue to try out romantic partners who reflect themselves.
Components of a Relationship
In a May 2009 article for “Psychology Today,” Dr. Carl Pickhardt identified three components of any romantic relationship. Attraction, whether physical or based on personality traits, is the force that brings the partners together. Enjoyment is what keeps the relationship going and is based on shared experiences. Few relationships continue without both attraction and enjoyment. Respect is the third component, and this may be overlooked by those who are new to dating. It refers to both partners taking an active role in maintaining relationship boundaries that make each other feel comfortable. The specific boundaries vary from relationship to relationship, but the important aspect is that each strives to make the other feel safe. However, teens may need to go through a few bad "practice" relationships to learn important lessons. As long as your teen is not actively in danger, try to resist the urge to interfere.
Effects of Parent Relationships
The December 2008 issue of the “Journal of Adolescence” includes a study of adolescent relationships by researchers Deborah Welsh and Shmuel Shulman. They found that teens whose parents demonstrated a high level of conflict and strife in their marital relationship were more likely to show similar behaviors in their own relationships. Interestingly, teens who had a great deal of personal conflict with their parents did not necessarily carry this dynamic over into their relationships. However, teens who learned to work collaboratively with their parents on projects in early adolescence showed higher levels of problem-solving skills in their late-teen romances.
Sex in Teen Relationships
Sex is an important part of healthy adult relationships, but it is not always a factor in teen dating. According to Dr. Pickhardt’s “Psychology Today” article, roughly 50 percent of teens are sexually active by the end of high school. The further the relationship progresses, and the stronger the feelings of love between the partners, the more likely it is that sex will occur. Help your teen learn to become proactive about sexual choices. Teach her to evaluate the relationship and consider the possible consequences of becoming sexually involved, rather than simply responding in the moment.
Violence in Teen Relationships
The Centers for Disease Control states that roughly 9 percent of teenagers surveyed reported that they were hit or otherwise treated violently by a romantic partner in the previous 12 months. Among adults who report partner violence, 22.4 percent of women and 15 percent of men claim that they were first involved in a violent relationship during adolescence. Although there is no way to guarantee that your teen won't be involved in a violent relationship, all teens should be equipped with basic coping skills. Teach your child proper conflict management and de-escalation techniques. Help her develop self-esteem and the courage to walk away. Maintain open communication and encourage your teen to tell you if anything goes awry. Avoid speaking negatively about your child’s partner, which could drive the teens closer together, but teach her to recognize a lack of respect before the relationship hits a breaking point.