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earing that your teen is in love can be terrifying. As parents, we know the emotional and often physical commitment these words bring into a relationship, yet seeking out and experiencing love is a normal part of teen development. When your teens share their feelings with you, avoid having an emotionally charged discussion. Their disclosure can become a gateway to help them make healthy decisions about relationships.


 Adolescence is a time of emotional, physical and sexual growth. Throughout this pivotal time, teens become increas- ingly involved in romantic relationships that may lead to sexual experiences. Understanding exactly what is happening (and why it is happening) can help you support your son or daughter throughout puberty. Start early, and talk with — not at — your teen about relationships, sex and your expectations. Talking about sex, be- fore teens become sexually active, builds trust and a strong foundation to continue the discussion as they get older. In early adolescence — 9- to 13-year- old girls and 11- to 14-year-old boys — tweens begin searching for new people to love in addition to their parents. This can mean stronger relationships with friends and new romantic relation- ships. During middle adolescence — 13- to 16-year-old girls and 14- to 17-year-old boys — there is often


experimentation with deeper roman- tic relationships that includes sexual behaviors. During this stage of devel- opment, teens also progress into abstract thinking and can contemplate the future, hence seeing themselves with “the one.” In late adolescence — girls ages 16 to 21


and boys ages 17 to 21 — young adults are gaining the ability to think ideas through and make independent deci- sions. They’re also developing greater intimacy skills and are more capable of close, complex relationships. It is also during this time that sexual behavior be- comes more expressive and many teens become sexually active. Responding to your teen’s feelings of


love for a romantic partner is no easy task, but equipping yourself with proven communication strategies that foster two- way, positive communication will make it easier. Tips to help guide the discussion with your teen follow.


 


 Encourage your teens to love and value themselves. You may think they love


themselves a little too much sometimes, but when teens accept, respect and value themselves they are less likely to engage in unsafe sexual behaviors.


 Encourage your teens to leave nice at the door when it comes to ignoring their


needs, wants and desires in favor of their partner’s. Help them think through ways to let their partner know what is right for them when it comes to sexual activities.


Clearly express your expectations for their relationships and sexual behaviors


by providing guidance, not lectures. Consider this scenario: Your teen had


previously made the decision to wait to have sex and is now has found “the one.”   While your first inclination may be to discount the credibility of feelings of love, it’s important to take your teens seriously. Responding with an empathetic state-





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