1. What approach is best?
2. How to set expectations?
3. What is my role?
Joe Felegi had logistical questions when his daughters began dating. “Who are they going with? Where are they going? When are they coming back? Who is driving? Will there be a chaperone?” says Felegi, a father of two in Boca Raton. “I wanted to know the details.”
But his wife, Erin Molloy, focused on her daughter’s relationship with the boy instead. “Who is this person? How does he treat you? What is his family life? How do you feel about him?” she says. “I wanted to hone in on my daughter’s expectations.”
Actually, their different approaches to their teens’ first romances are both correct, says Sonja Woodward, a team therapist for Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P, for Community Partners of South Florida, which is funded by Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County.
1. WHAT APPROACH IS BEST?
It’s vital to nurture open channels of communication with your children. “There is so much input in this world – from school, from friends. We have to be mindful that they’ve heard some kind of version of dating advice, but not the correct version,” Woodward says. “It’s our responsibility as a parent to make sure they have the right information.”
Woodward validates Felegi’s focus on safety.
“As you’re talking with your teen, discuss what would make this date OK so you feel comfortable. Joe’s questions are legitimate conversation starters, where you can evaluate together what a first date will look like,” she says. “Some families prefer the first date be a group date; others want to meet the person beforehand. Walk through the date together and understand what it looks like.”
2. HOW TO SET EXPECTATIONS?
Woodward also endorses Molloy’s priorities because it’s important to discuss emotional expectations as well.
“As they enter this vulnerable, emotional space as a teenager, there are certain things you should clarify, such as what are they looking for? Are they looking for someone to spend time together? What do they want from a relationship? Create that dream with them,” Woodward says. “As parents, we know this is going to be the first romance of many. We have to set the bar for what they should expect from the relationship.”
3. WHAT IS MY ROLE?
Facilitator, sounding board, coach, safe space . . . whatever term you decide upon, just try not to be the director, Woodward says. Instead of dictating, caregivers should strive to be a resource for brainstorming sticky issues of the heart, such as how to establish boundaries, what being respectful means, how to navigate physical intimacy and what taking responsibility for your health and well-being looks like.
“Parents are so quick to come up with solutions or predictions for their teenagers, and it’s triggering because teens want to make their own choices,” Woodward says. “We have to let them come to that decision or those conclusions too. Brainstorm actions, so you’re coming up with answers together.”
• Sonja Woodward, registered marriage and family therapist intern, Triple P Team therapist, Community Partners of South Florida