How to Handle Teen PDA

teen boy and girl almost kissing, for article on teen pda

Sex and sexuality might be one of the most important, and least comfortable, topics of conversation for parents and their teens. Try as they might to avoid it, inevitably, the day of reckoning arrives – often in the form of a first boy or girlfriend. Faced with occasionally indiscriminate PDA (“public displays of affection”) on the part of their teen offspring, parents are often forced to set some boundaries to avoid the “ick” factor of being the unintentional witness to someone else’s amorous overtures.

How Much is Too Much?

With PDA, determining how much is too much is a matter of opinion that may vary from family to family. Like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I know it when I see it.” Before engaging in a conversation with teens, it’s important for parents to understand what their own beliefs are about the topic and what is acceptable behavior in their own homes.

For Denise L., a mom of three, her feelings about PDA are the same with regard to her teens as they are with the general public.

“I think it’s okay for older teens to hold hands, or give a quick hug hello or goodbye in public. I don’t like to see PDA beyond that,” Denise commented. “In all honesty, I wouldn’t want to see two adults ‘making out’ in public, either. To me, excessive PDA at any age shows a lack of respect for everyone involved.”

Respect, for yourself and others, seems to be the key word when it comes to acceptable behavior.

“Although we speak very openly about sex and sexuality in our house, we respect each other’s sensibilities, space and privacy,” said Brett D., also a mother of three. “Everyone agrees that anything beyond holding hands, or a quick kiss in public spaces, is not respectful of others in the room. It’s an agreement born out of understanding the discomfort of those around you.”

TPS Guidelines

While most homes may not have rules about PDA carved in stone, Tulsa Public Schools  has a specific policy to address the topic in the  “Definitions of Inappropriate Behaviors” section of the Student and Family Guide to Success. According to TPS, inappropriate PDA includes, but is not limited to: kissing, fondling, cuddling, inappropriate touching, rubbing/massaging, caressing/stroking/petting, excessive hugging or other expressions of affection not in keeping with the social expectations of the school setting. Hmmmm, with a list like that, it’s no wonder many parents shy away from this discussion.

The “Grandmother” Test

If the TPS approach seems a little too technical to be practical on the home front, perhaps Brett’s “grandmother” litmus test is a useful alternative.

“I tell my younger daughter to ‘behave as though your big brother, or mom, or even worse, grandmother, is walking behind you,’” Brett laughed. “Behaving respectfully leads to being respected.”

Denise has a similar approach.

“Our rules about PDA are pretty straightforward,” she said. “Respect yourself, the person you’re dating, and the people around you. Ask yourself, ‘Would I do this if my principal, or grandparents, or insert any other authority or role model, were standing here in front of me?’”

Sibling Examples

Brett also relies on her two older children to set an example for their younger sister.

“There is a 10-year gap between my older son and daughter and my youngest daughter,” she explained. “I have impressed upon the older two the importance of being good role models for their younger sister. My son has shown his younger sisters how a girl should be respected. My older daughter has shown her little sister how to be a young woman who respects herself.”

Although it can certainly be awkward, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. According to the experts, parents actually have more influence over their kids’ behavior than they realize. While it might be difficult to talk to your teens about sex, sexuality and PDA, if you’re not having those conversations, your children are going to end up making those decisions on their own. So take a deep breath and dive on in.

JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.

Categories: Tweens & Teens