Are Long-Term Teen Relationships Cause for Concern?
Q: My daughter started hanging out with one of her classmates, a boy, in fifth grade. It started with sharing classes and studying together, watching each other’s sports, talking on the phone, and going to all the school dances together. Now, six years later, I feel like her boyfriend is part of our family. Our two families are close; we love our kids and yet know they are both so young to have only had this one relationship. Now that they’re high school juniors, I’m worried. I’ve done the safe sex, healthy male/female relationships, and balanced lifestyle (outside interests, girlfriends, and hobbies) talks with my daughter. She’s doing great, yet I worry that she may limit her future choices due to the relationship. Is there anything for me to do?
A: You have described the best of worlds and yet the worst of worlds in the same question. Your daughter has a good relationship and yet you fear it might be too good for this time in her life. Even better, your communication lines have stayed open, and your family has expanded as these two teens have developed their friendship. Yet you are worried. Has she truly found what she wants already, or is she starting to limit her future choices based on this relationship? That being said, how are you to know what is best for her?
Much of the research on long-term relationships with teens isn’t that bad. It indicates that the process of moving from being acquaintances to friends can help develop many important skills. It is during these early years your daughter learned how to communicate her feelings. This relationship might have helped her develop a lot of confidence in talking about school, friends, sports and hobbies. It might have helped her clarify her likes and dislikes in both a boyfriend and with friendships in general.
It is good that they are talking to each other about the future. Since they are friends, it is normal to discuss hopes and dreams for the future. I’m sure you have already had conversations about what some of these future possibilities might include, such as careers and college, even marriage and family at some point.
Most parents start the college discussions as early as middle school since paying for college is a major expense. Good high school grades and participating in extracurricular activities also are important to getting into college. From your question, it sounds as if your daughter currently is doing well in these areas.
Having a main squeeze over her teen years may be perfect and very safe for your daughter. It sounds as if you have not witnessed any warning signs about teen relationships, signs of her boyfriend being controlling, judgmental or critical. In fact, it sounds as if you have seen patience, kindness, positive communication, attentiveness, flexibility and friendship over the past six years.
Your daughter probably has started experiencing her own feelings about boys through this relationship. What started as a mild attraction might have moved to deeper feelings. Now it is likely to include more feelings of excitement and arousal. I’m glad that you have been talking to her throughout the time about sex, birth control and intimacy in relationships. Most parents of teens in a long-term relationship are worried about them getting pregnant, being sexually active or getting married too young.
If you are worried about marriage before they graduate from high school, talk directly with your daughter about it. Don’t be surprised if she is shocked that you bring this up. Unless you have cause for concern, you might want to wait for a time when you have a concrete reason to think they may be considering marriage before you bring up the topic.
If marriage after high school graduation is your fear, what have both your daughter and her boyfriend seen in your and his parent’s marriage? They may be following a script that either of you lived, or they may be trying to do something very different from either of your families. If you married young and had children young, think about the message your daughter might have gotten from you about marriage and having children.
The fact that both of your families have gotten to know each other has also shown you her boyfriend’s background. Hopefully you see a family that shows love, respect and has fun together. It may be time now, if it hasn’t already happened, to talk together about your children’s lives. You each might have different information that could either ease or increase your concerns for their choices. Even though high school graduation is still over a year away, you can prepare now for possible scenarios that arise. As you listen to your daughter talk about the future, you will have opportunities to discuss your hopes for her as well.
You may be worried about your daughter and her boyfriend finishing college. If both parents are worried about the same thing, you might talk about your combined hopes for them directly. What has motivated your teen so far? Some teens just need to know that their families love and support them as they apply for college or training programs. Others might want more specifics — what can you or will you pay for and what is beyond your means or your values? You may be willing to pay for tuition, books, room and board, as long as it does not include them living together. You might be willing to do tuition and books and leave room and board up to them if they choose to live together.
Don’t forget who your daughter is as you think about approaching her. For some people, merely saying something makes them want to do exactly the opposite. She seems to have good grades, friends, and balance all the relationships that are part of going to high school. All of those indicate level-headed thinking.
If, as you read this, you are profoundly aware of how much you like and trust your daughter, maybe you really don’t need to do anything right now. The biggest surprise might be in watching what they decide is best for each other in the coming years. Good luck.