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Romance and the Teen Scene

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, romance is in the air. Or not, as the case may be. For teenagers whose sexuality is just beginning to bud, or for those without a boy or girl friend, this can be a challenging time of year. Deluged with romantic “hype,” teens can feel like losers if they don’t have a significant other or if they’re not ready for a romantic or sexual relationship. And for teens who are discovering a same sex orientation, this time of year can be particularly difficult.

Most teens face the prospect of romance armed with entirely false ideas, and very little knowledge past the basics of sex. In part this occurs because parents either do not role model healthy romantic relationships and / or parents fail to talk about the complicated interrelationship between romance, passion, sexuality, and love.

So, what is the difference between these feelings and action? “Romance” usually refers to an emotional attraction towards someone else. That attraction can be acted upon, in that one person may “romance” another by sending flowers, writing poetry, etc. Passion is usually used to refer to sexual desire. One need not feel or act in a romantic manner to feel passion. Likewise, “love” can be disassociated from passion as well. Sex generally refers to sexual behavior: oral, anal or genital. Love is defined as an “affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests; warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.” (Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary).

No wonder it’s confusing! And within all that confusion, teens often seek to straighten out the meanings of the various feelings and actions by succumbing to the pressure imposed by society to engage in a romantic or sexual relationship.

Because pressure from the media and peers can leave teens who aren’t in a relationship feeling confused, left out, lonely and different, parents must take a more active role in helping their teens feel comfortable about sexuality and its associated feelings.

* If you have young children, start to talk about sex now. Don’t wait until they’re seven or eight or older. It’s never too early to have this conversation. While sex usually remains theoretical until adolescence, the basic facts will at least provide a foundation for less embarrassing conversations with pre-teens and teens later on.

* If you’re uncomfortable with the subject, get comfortable. Read about it, talk about it with your spouse or partner and discuss it with your friends. Nothing turns teens off more than embarrassed parents.

* If you haven’t talked about sex with your teen, you’ll have to assume they already know about it. Starting a conversation at this point will be more about asking them what they know than giving them factual information.

* Ask your teen what she thinks the difference is between romance, sexuality, love and passion. Be non-judgmental about her answers, remembering that this is an open door that you will need to walk through more than once. Avoid slamming it in her face by criticizing her.

* Admit to your own feelings. It can be helpful for your teenager or younger child to know that you went through periods of time as an adolescent where you had confusing feelings about relationships and sexuality.

* Shower your teen with your love. The more love that he feels at home, the less likely it is that he’ll look for inappropriate love outside the home.

* Give your teen information other than the basic facts. According to Deborah M. Roffman, in her book Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex teens and younger children need to hear more about the relationship that having sex creates between two people. Sex involves a level of intimacy that creates an emotional bond between two people, and if one partner isn’t ready for that kind of deeper commitment it can be an emotionally devastating experience for one or both parties. She suggests that parents call “having sex” “making love” to further strengthen the notion that there should be a level of caring for the other person that goes beyond physical pleasure. As in all other areas of discussion with teens, parents should avoid lecturing, or “preaching” and should look at this discussion as an exploration of new territory, where parent and teen are trying to figure this out together.

And some straight talk from teens:

* “I wish my parents would just be open and interested in talking about sex. I just want them to be available and not be embarrassed if I have a question.”

* “Don’t patronize us. We already know all about sex, so if you’re going to talk about it with us, don’t pretend like we don’t already know or haven’t tried it.

* “I hate it when my mom says things like, ‘Well, there are more fish in the sea,’ or ‘things will feel better tomorrow.’ It doesn’t understand my feelings. When John and I broke up it was real, and I’m sad.”

* “Parents need to take our feelings seriously. Just because they were a teenager once doesn’t mean that our feelings about romance should be laughed at or brushed off.”

* “For heaven’s sake, don’t sit your teen down and have ‘the talk’ about ‘the birds and bees.’ We get that in school. We need parents to talk about the feelings associated with sex and romance, not the facts.”

* “Don’t lecture us. All we really want is for you to listen.”

Good, sound advice straight from the mouths of adolescents themselves. Have a happy Valentine’s Day!