Romantic relationship is a major developmental milestone. It comes with all the other changes going on during adolescence. It could be physical, social or emotional and it is linked to every child’s growing interest in body image and looks, independence and privacy.
Romantic relationships can bring many emotional ups and downs for every child and sometimes for the whole family. The idea that children might have these kinds of feelings can sometimes be a bit confronting for parents and guardians and these feelings can lead children towards a deeper capacity to care, share and develop intimate relationships.
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There isn’t a ‘right age’ to start having relationships. Every child is different and every family will feel differently about this issue. From 9-11 years, some children might start to show more independence from their family and more interest in friends. From 10-14 years, children might want to spend more time in mixed gender groups, which might eventually end up in a romantic relationship. While from 15-19 years, romantic relationships can become central to their social life and friendships might become deeper and more stable.
Many teenagers spend a lot of time thinking and talking about being in a relationship. In these years, teenage relationships might last only a few weeks or months. It’s also normal for children to have no interest in romantic relationships until their late teens. Some choose to focus on schoolwork, sport or other interests.
Before children start having relationships, they might have one or more crushes. This can be an identity crush which is when children find someone they admire and want to be like. It could also be a romantic crush which serves as the beginning of romantic feelings. Children begin imagining another person as perfect or ideal and this can tell a lot about the things that children find attractive in people. Romantic crushes tend not to last very long because ideas of perfection often break down when children get to know the other person better but the child’s intense feelings are real, so it’s best to take crushes seriously and not make fun of them.
Younger teenagers usually hang out together in groups. They might meet up with someone special among friends, and then gradually spend more time with that person alone. Whenever children want to go out alone with someone special, talking about it together with their parents and guardians can help them get a sense of whether the child is ready. The parents and guardians get to discover whether their child wants a boyfriend or girlfriend just because their friends do or whether their children think it’s the only way to go out and have fun and whether their child wants to spend time getting to know someone better.
The family plays a big part in the way children think about teenage relationships. When parents and guardians encourage conversations about feelings, friendships and family relationships, it can help their children feel confident to talk about teenage relationships in general. If children know what respectful relationships look like in general, they can relate this directly to romantic relationships.
Conversations between parents and their children will make children feel more comfortable sharing feelings with them as they start to get romantically interested in others and the conversations can also bring up other important topics, like treating other people kindly, breaking up kindly and respecting other people’s boundaries. Having conversations with children about sex and relationships from a young age will make them feel more comfortable to ask questions as they move into adolescence.
Depending on one’s values and family rules, parents, guardians and their children need to discuss behaviour and ground rules as well as consequences for breaking the rules. Parents and guardians must also agree on some strategies on what their child should do if they feel unsafe or threatened. Young people might also talk to their friends, which is healthy and normal but they still need back-up so keeping the lines of communication open is important.
Parents and guardians must keep the lines of communication open and let their children know that they will be there to listen. This will make children more likely to come to you with questions and concerns. Active listening can help parents and guardians pick up on their child’s needs.
Parents and guardians must make sure their children have developmentally appropriate information about sex and sexual development at home and at school. They can also consult health professionals, local community resources and relevant support groups should be able to give you help or advice.
It is necessary for parents and guardians to monitor and guard the concept of teenage relationships among their young ones due to the advancement in society and the erroneous content they can get accessed to via social media or other poorly regulated mediums.
Ibrahim Hamidu writes via [email protected]