“Reality” TV and Young Love

Two children kissing on the cheekNo management advice here. There aren’t any parallels to the tightrope you will walk as your young one falls into, and out of crushes, infatuations, and eventually true feelings for another person.

When they are young and have their first young love, you feel such a tug at your heartstrings because their love is so pure and innocent (and sometimes filled with punches in the arm depending on the age at which Cupid appears on the scene). You don’t really know what to say to them until it is over and they are mad or sad and you need to fill the comfort role.

Daughter 2 had romance in her life from a very early age. She had that mysterious “it” factor that makes little boys fall head over heels by the time they are three and in preschool, she married her steady beau from time to time. His Mom told me that he asked his Dad if he had ever dated anyone else before he married his Mom. His Dad answered truthfully. “Yes, I did.” This earnest little guy looked up at him and asked, “But do you HAVE to?” Priceless.

Middle school came along and a funny thing happened with many of the boys.

My friends with sons told me that they would come home and say, “Mom, I have a girlfriend.” But then when my friends would press for details; no luck. A week later their son would casually mention that he had broken up. My friends felt like they had missed something important!

One friend put it best when she said, “At this age, the girls start the relationship, they maintain it and they break it off. The boys just stand there and scratching their heads and thinking, Wait..there was a relationship?”

Society places such pressure on young girls and boys to live up to unrealistic physical ideals. Girls are required to be skinny, beautiful and perfectly made up at all times. Boys are required to be tall,  muscular, athletic and have perfect hair. In what universe do teenagers really fit these paradigms of perfection? Meanwhile, because reality means that they don’t fit those paradigms, they will often blame that imperfection for a relationship or attraction failure. All you can do as a parent is keep reassuring them and letting them know that it is a fantasy.

We must make our children questioning consumers of both goods…and emotions.

Reality TV rears its ugly head so fast these days, and your only defense is a good offense. If you suspect your child is watching these shows somewhere besides home, try watching them with him and discuss them if you can. Keep it light. “So how realistic is it that someone would say that?” “Why do you think she would do something like that? Could it be in the script?” We made short work of some pretty scuzzy stuff this way but there is no escaping it all. Your kids will need to hear your voice in the back of their heads, encouraging them to question what is real and what is scripted in what they see.

I think that shows like “The Hills,” “The Real Housewives of Wherever,” etc. have hyper-dramatized relationships to the point where a lot of young people feel that if there isn’t something extremely dramatic going on in THEIR relationship (regardless of how healthy and constructive it may be), they must not be doing it right. After all, it just doesn’t seem as exciting as what they are seeing on their favorite shows.

We have talked about it in our family and emphasized how totally unrealistic these shows are, as opposed to real relationships. But you know what? You have to know about these shows in order to talk about them, and that requires sitting down and occasionally watching something you may find truly heinous with your child. My eyes may never be the same, but at least they know I usually know what I am talking about.

High school is where your kids’ relationships can get intense, secretive, sometimes dangerous or abusive. You would be amazed at how much dysfunction exists in an everyday suburban high school, and so your antenna has to be very sensitiveAbuse can take many forms and boys are just as subject to emotional abuse as girls; believe it or not.

Suspect a relationship in your teen’s life may be going down the wrong path? Contact the school counselor and see if there is a support group at your campus. Texas Advocacy Project has a great resource page that can educate and help you. Teen Justice Initiative

Think you have had the sex talk?…Statistics say that most things don’t sink in unless we have heard it at least six times. Assorted ways from various sources are very effective, but you are the strongest authority of all.

Keep talking with other parents and with your child, because although they may seem like young adults, high school is when they need your strong leadership more than ever. There are so many temptations, pressures and really frightening things ahead (SATs, college, the unknown future) and YOU are the only constant. Keep letting them make as many decisions as you can, based on your Emotional Bank Account and the trust they have built up with you, and applying consequences if or when your trust is misused.

There may be rough times ahead, but you will get through it with knowledge, love, consistency and communication.

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