When Your Teen Starts Dating: Protocols
February 15, 2018 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Well, this question was a timely one in our household. Our 13-year-old son has recently started dating, and it's kicking up a lot of dust. Help us help him...

All this has come out into the open over the course of the last two weeks. At first, we didn't know what was up: Why, for example, small changes in social plans, or requests to put the phone down for dinner, or conversations about minor slips in schoolwork were generating truly massive tantrums. Turns out that teen has been in the throes of all the insecurities that a young relationship can breed: over other love interests, over time spent together, over whether or not feelings are mutual, etc. We've since discovered that there's been some sneaking around, too.

Our teen seems obsessed about this relationship. Frankly, we're worried about teen and teen's love interest. This doesn't seem like it's a healthy, happy relationship.

Truthfully, we think 13 is too young to date (and our teen is only recently 13 and still has some maturing to do), but we also don't think that we can walk this back now -- and we're not really the kind of parents who "forbid" things anyway. We thought that the two teens were mostly talking/texting/hanging out with groups of friends (and we did have some mild rules about this in place), but it turns out that wasn't exactly the case.

Had we known that what was going on was more like dating-dating, we would have done more chaperoning, monitoring, talking, planning, etc. While we were catching up to speed, though, teen developed some habits and expectations -- for example: excessive, endless texting on platforms we can't monitor and seizing opportunities to find time to be alone with love interest -- that they DO NOT want curtailed by their parents now.

So what do we do?

More specifically, what kinds of parameters do you (or would you) set for a 13-year old who is dating? And how do we go about imposing them now when we haven't had them in place before (can we)? Teen will most certainly respond to any perceived restriction with an angry, despairing outburst -- this will be both prolonged and intense; then teen will calm down and try to reason with us. Rinse; repeat; teen will keep trying to get his way. And in the end, we suspect that teen will try to work around any perceived restrictions anyway -- either by skirting the letter of the law or simply going underground. We'd especially like to avoid the latter. So hit us with your best advice. Lord knows we need it.
posted by pinkacademic to Human Relations (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, I'd leave aside the endless texting in platforms you can't monitor. I know, it's painful, it was painful for me too, but like - trying to monitor texting is going to be the biggest thing that they're going to rebel against.

I'd focus on what you can control. "Hey, if you're going to be dating, you should tell me about it. What's going on?"
posted by corb at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2018 [11 favorites]

This depends a lot on your goals and family expectations. For example, I do not monitor my kids’ conversations with peers because I place a high value on privacy, but you may place a higher value on other things which could make reading their texts more important. I do not prevent them from hanging out with their romantic interests one-on-one because their personalities are such that I don’t see it as a problem, but if I felt they were at risk of pressuring someone or being pressured into things they weren’t ready for, I may talk to them about how best to prevent that. Can you talk a little more about your specific concerns and values you want to uphold?
posted by metasarah at 10:17 AM on February 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you wouldn't place a bug on him to listen to in-person conversations between them, why the worries about texts you can't monitor?

Really it would be helpful if you could clarify what specifically is worrying you here. The fears you cite are pretty vague ("he's obsessed," it doesn't "seem healthy," etc). You sound caught off-guard and unprepared for this phase of his development, but what are your goals here? What do you want to change and why?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:29 AM on February 15, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think "invite Love Interest to dinner" is standard advice here.

Even if you've met the person before, having A Meal together where everyone knows that they're Dating is a good way of establishing that things are going to be above-board and you're going to expect honesty and openness.

More generally, trying to keep two teenagers apart doesn't work; trying to keep them honest with you is easier. A rule like "no secret texts" might feel like trying to keep them honest — but your kid's going to experience it as trying to keep them apart, since he can't say everything he wants to say with his parents listening. (Shit, if your parents insisted on being there every time you and your partner talked, you'd sure experience that as pushing you apart.) Might be better to put that energy into pushing your kid to tell you how things are going.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:43 AM on February 15, 2018 [23 favorites]

I like the invitation to think more about values we'd like to uphold. Thanks for that.

Right now, we'd really like teen to feel more balanced: in terms both of trying to get those outbursts under control (they're scary and spilling out to affect the whole family unit) and also in helping make sure teen is able to focus on more than just the romance: friends, schoolwork, sports/activities, etc. The relationship seems to be... overwhelming. In multiple ways.

Additionally, we'd like to help teen learn how to have/find healthy romantic relationships; aspects of this relationship seem... not good. We've seen some behavior from teen that worries us: controlling, picking fights, paranoia about other love interests, that sort of thing. And moving pretty fast when it comes to the physical stuff.

Finally, we'd also like to nurture more honesty and transparency. Teen is prone to lies of omission or slanting subterfuges -- teen is rarely outright dishonest -- but that really is contributing to a toxic atmosphere of distrust.

I think that because teen seems so overwhelmed, we're wondering if this is the sort of thing that we can get through just by talking. I'm not sure teen is capable right now of self-regulating or proceeding in a trustworthy fashion based on his parents' sage advice alone - but I also get that maybe that's the best we can do when it comes to parenting teenagers.

I won't thread sit anymore but appreciate the opportunity to add a few details about our big-picture goals here.
posted by pinkacademic at 10:43 AM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

You do seem extra worried, and I understand sometimes those concerns feel extra vague when they have a specific cause! Are you concerned about an age/experience gap between them? That they will have sex before they're mentally ready (don't we all!)? That their work is slipping? That they're being kinda an asshole?
Try to outline clearly your worries and present them NEUTRALLY to your son. Not like "if this is happening you are forbidden", do not go the forbading route. It creates more sneaking. Just let them know it's a big change for you, and that if they're worried about anything, or feel pressured, or don't know how to manage new relationship feels with the rest of life, that they can talk with you about it without being in trouble...and model this to him by talking about your concerns in a neutral way too. Open those lines of communication now, it'll only get harder later (ask me how I lnow, as a teen who definitely didn't feel comfortable talking about stuff because it always got me in trouble!)
Do you know the gender ID of their love interest? Is it possible that he's hiding things because it's not a hetero relationship?
posted by zinful at 10:45 AM on February 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is probably not what you want to hear, but I’d make sure your son has access to condoms, even/especially if you think he shouldn’t be having sex.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:49 AM on February 15, 2018 [40 favorites]

Is this whole thing 100% consensual? Is the other teen as into it as your son, or is he being jealous / possessive with someone who is less into being monogamous with him than he is? It's important to keep watch for these signs. Inviting other teen for dinner is a good way to read body language and get a sense of where they BOTH are.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:54 AM on February 15, 2018 [18 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but I find recently-turned-13 to be shockingly young. If you think this is obsessive, and at all serious the first thing that occurs is maybe you should somehow contact the girl's parents, his homeroom teacher, or a guidance counselor to get some feedback on normalcy or expectations from a neutral party/the other end. The other thought that immediately comes to mind is talking to him STAT about birth control, and sex while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or what have you. Is your teen very developed for his age? Does he have access to a car? Is he in a position to be alone with her after school anywhere? I'm still wide-eyed at his age, given what I think I'm understanding from your description about jealousy and obsession. But I think, unlike the inference of another commenter, that 13 is WAY TOO YOUNG for sex — not to leap, but I gather everyone is playing catch-up here, so this is something that should definitely be considered.
posted by Violet Blue at 10:55 AM on February 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

As a quick follow-up, I think inviting love interest to dinner is an excellent way to begin, as mentioned upthread.
posted by Violet Blue at 10:57 AM on February 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Single parent of a 6th grader as well as a 10th grader here... our house rule is no dating in middle school, period. Friends are fine, but dating is out. In terms of enforcement for communications, it would all be on the table for me including taking away the phone, locking down the computer, changing the WiFi password, etc. I wouldn’t do any of this with anger and it would be as a last resort, but I’ll absolutely do it. I don’t monitor communications but I absolutely reserve that right if there were to be a trust issue. From the responses I know this makes me really, really out of the norm... but middle schoolers just don’t have any of the maturity needed to be in a healthy relationship.
posted by machinecraig at 10:58 AM on February 15, 2018 [15 favorites]

I think I'd want to find a way to welcome the "love interest" whether it be for dinner, to join a family outing, or something even more low-key that I can't think of now - stopping by after school for a half hour for snacks was what we did, but that might not work in the modern age. Otherwise, back off a bit in general with the inquiries and "talks" or you won't be able to have any conversations with teen - he'll be stuck in "get off my back" mode.
posted by Gnella at 11:01 AM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

To add to my comment about condoms, I also think 13 is too young for sex, and I hope that your son won’t need to use them! But some kids do have sex that young, and if a 13 yr old is determined to have sex, they will find a time/place to do it, and it’s better that they have access to birth control than not.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:01 AM on February 15, 2018 [12 favorites]

Some limit setting discussions are taking place above that are valuable. I just wanted to jump in on supporting your child in having a healthy relationship. Most people focus on the scary negatives - I hope you also focus on what healthy interactions looks like (yes, condoms, if rises to that level), but also the line between "healthy crushing" and "obsession." Mainstream media sources (tv, movies, etc.) are not a good model.

Love is Respect (focused on teen dating violence, yes) has some good positive resources (more in the pull-down menu).
posted by anya32 at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

I guess this is a thing people do now, but if I ever thought as a teenager that my parents were interested in monitoring my private conversations with anyone, there would have been a lot of fury and very little calming down on my part, and I was a very quiet kid. You say you're not doing that and that's good, but I wonder if your kid is picking up on this instinct to control his private life.
If you're worried he's texting too much don't let him have his phone out at the dinner table (no one should do that anyway, it's just rude). Make sure he's keeping his grades up and if not talk with him and help him find a balance. Talk with him about doing the physical stuff safely, talk with him about consent and being good to his girlfriend, be people he can turn to with questions or for help without fear of judgment or try to make sure he has that from someone else. Focus on the important stuff.
But for god's sake, don't model controlling behavior for him. Being young doesn't mean you don't deserve to keep your inner life rich and private.
posted by trig at 11:13 AM on February 15, 2018 [17 favorites]

Think of friends who have been in unhealthy relationships. Did your pushing them to leave the other party ever work? Or did it make them double down on their passions? Because in my experience, trying to get anyone in the throes of hormones and sexy lovey brain hormones to just develop more perspective, damn it, and healthier interests is completely ineffective.

Be a safe space. Take his relationship seriously. Invite the other party over, include them in family events, eliminate the need for sneaking around. Let go about the texting beyond fair and universal house rules (IE, no texting at dinner, no texting after bedtime, whatever that means.) Provide condoms and have discussions about safe sex that go beyond "don't do it." Yes, it's likely this relationship will end but a 13 year old lacks the perspective to know that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:28 AM on February 15, 2018 [23 favorites]

Talk to your son about condoms, get some condoms. Be very clear that you don't think he is ready for sex. he's not, but his hormones think they are. And maybe hers, too.
Talk to your son about consent, active consent, about verifying consent and not assuming consent.
Talk to your son about sending and/or receiving sexually explicit pictures. Once a picture is taken, it can be shared. A shared sexually explicit picture will be on the Web basically forever. Kids and adults can and do get arrested and prosecuted for sexually explicit pictures. Just Don't. Not worth it.
Talk about honesty and respect in relationships, with parents and gf.
Check in and talk to him about relationships ending. That it hurts, but must be accepted, what stalking is and how it's not okay for either side.

Boundaries? That's very individual. Many kids are home alone after school, and if your kid isn't, and she isn't, they have friends who are. That's yet another reason to talk about sexual responsibility. Do you have a family room or other area separate from the living room where son and gf can be together without total supervision, but not on their own? Can you be doing stuff in the kitchen so they can "do homework," watch tv or play board games after school in another room? Having places to be together and stuff to do together allows them to get to know each other, have a relationship or even a Relationship, but also avoid a lot of complication. Invite her along to movie night, at home or a theater, shopping at the mall, dinner, whatever. I don't know what dating looks like for 13 year olds these days, but that's the age where they are starting to learn how romantic relationships work and don't work, and likely the age when both of them are experiencing adolescent sexuality, which can hit like a freight train.

One thing it took me a while to learn. My son never seemed like he was listening, but when I talked to him about important stuff, at least some percentage was really getting through. Especially with sexuality, you have to talk about it a number of times; it's incredibly easy for kids to get misunderstandings. I used to like taking him places because the car was a pretty okay place to talk, no eye contact required. And if there's 10 minutes and he's home, you're home, ask if there's anything going on he wants to talk to you about. A large part of the barrier is the OMG, how do I ask Mom/ Dad about boners or whatever, so try to bring stuff up. Honestly, my kid got so sick of me talking to him about sex that I could practically get him to do chores by saying Hey, would you take that trash out? Or we could talk about how sex works?

13 is so young, but he is doing his job, which is to separate from you and become his own person. Your job is to let go some, but not too much, which is impossible to figure out.
posted by theora55 at 11:30 AM on February 15, 2018 [40 favorites]

I came here to also recommend Love Is Respect. It’s got fantastic resources for everyone in the family.

I actually lead sessions for parents of adolescents about open communication and discussing sex, relationships, etc. One of the first activities we do is a definitions activity. Realizing that you and your teen may have different definitions for things like dating is a really important first step. So ask (and listen!) of what dating means to them right now. Sitting together at lunch? Going to the mall? Movies? Kissing? Sharing social media passwords? Texting everyday?

Before you ever sit down to that conversation you should know what your values and what values you want to have your child on that topic are. Things like- sex, parenthood, marriage, life goals, birth control, masturbation, etc.

The advice above to have the romantic partner over to dinner is fantastic. Think of other ways you can reach out and be involved without being overbearing. Perhaps volunteering to bring them to the mall while you do shopping (not with them) but at the mall at the same time? Having them over to do an activity with the family?

People mentioning condoms is great! Why does it seem like they’re too young for it- because they probably are! But it’s really important to have conversations that open the door BEFORE they’re partaking in those behaviors. Condoms generally have a 5 year expiry. That’s not terrible for him to have them now and then sitting around if ever needed.
posted by raccoon409 at 11:33 AM on February 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

We're also not authoritarian type parents. I wish I had not erased my initial comment before posting it. Let me see if I can recapture the gist of it...

In your shoes (I'll be there in a few short years) I would concentrate on the quality of our relationships with each other. As kids develop, you have to evolve or level up your relationship with them. I know you know this.

I'm not exactly sure how you get the family relationship back on track, but that would be my number one focus, just getting along and being happy together.

I'm not any sort of expert on parent/teen relationships, so I don't have any rec's on how to strengthen your relationship while allowing your teen to grow towards adult independence. I'm hoping professional resources are out there that focus on improving the family relationship specific to this developmental stage. If no one offers up specifics, that is the type of help I would start researching - anything that builds communication skills between parents and teens.

Maybe there are family communication classes? Maybe a local Quaker organization has family communication courses available? Or maybe an outward bound type hiking trip, some sort of team building experiences? Maybe you could ad hoc your own program out of interests you already share as a family?

I'm aiming at something that teaches useful skills + upgrades the family communication and relationship dynamic. I'm not a fan of family therapy, that seems like a punishment. I'm hoping you can find something a little more elegant, something that feels enjoyable and also effective.

I would not focus on the romantic relationship too intensely beyond setting reasonable boundaries and explaining the boundaries in a respectful way. I would discuss the teen romance in depth only after the family dynamic was back on track.
posted by jbenben at 11:56 AM on February 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

The sexting is a point you're really going to have to make. Most teen lapses in relationship judgment, barring sexual assault and pregnancy, can be remedied in one way or another after the fact, but explicit photos expose both kids to prosecution for possession/distribution of child pornography, not to mention social catastrophe if such images got shared. (Prosecution is the extreme case, obviously, but it has happened.)
posted by praemunire at 11:56 AM on February 15, 2018 [11 favorites]

I know we are talking about your kid here, but I second the "have some condoms around" advice for the fact that your kid will have friends whose parents won't talk about condoms or make them available. Even if your kid doesn't use them (at this point in his life), if he has a few to spare for a friend or two, that can only be a good thing.

As for the talk about monitoring who our kids are talking to and what they are talking about being a "modern" parenting thing - am I only one whose family had one phone, attached to the wall in the kitchen? Who lived in a small house with thin walls? OF COURSE our parents were monitoring what was said to whom. Don't think my mom wasn't above going through my backpack and notebooks looking for the notes we passed either. She was stealth about it, and didn't let on unless she heard something that she was really concerned about, but even then she brought it up in a casual way. The technology has changed, but parenting hasn't.

You know your kid best, but you have also discovered that you don't know everything. If you feel the need to monitor I think you can do so without guilt, but you also have to be upfront about it, so that you are not doing any of it in secret. In other words, you need to work to maintain your mutual trust with your kid. If you found out anyone was secretly reading your communications you'd be livid, so follow good protocols and understandings about what privacy can be expected, and what will not be tolerated.

I like the idea of inviting love interest over for a snack, or do sort of a get-together bbq with another family or two and invite love interest and their parents. That way there's more people and it's more casual and the kids won't feel like there is this glaring spotlight on them. Plus that way you get to suss out the other parents; especially given the kids' ages, two sets of parents working together on this might be a lot better than each parent handling it separately.

Otherwise, please try to work in some conversations about consent, and about respecting boundaries. It was only recently that I realized that our biology classes truly focused only on biology, but never once talked about consent or respect.
posted by vignettist at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

I would not give him condoms. I would make them easily available, in a low-key way, by stocking them in the bathroom cabinet in an obviously opened box, that contains so many that gee, you'd never even notice if any went missing. And then I would keep refilling that box, as needed.
That way, it's not like you're saying 'Here's a condom. You should totally go and have sex.' But they're easy to find, free, and not expired.

I would, however, talk about how and when condoms are used. Strictly theoretical. It's good to be informed.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2018 [14 favorites]

I would also direct Teen towards Scarleteen. It's the best sex ed site that I've seen, and it also deals with things like consent, and gender issues.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:04 PM on February 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

In addition to lots of good advice upthread re: consent, image sharing, and sex, I would make sure that when you each say "dating" that you're talking about the same thing. My 12yo recently asked how I felt about dating and I replied honestly that I was all for it. But for him, dating means other classmates knowing that two kids like each other, banal private texting, and maaaaaybe going to a movie alone together. It doesn't mean finding an empty house to have sex in or making out for hours. I'm not sure it would even mean holding hands.

Dating is really a range of behaviors and it would help to put them on a continuum with your son--outside of any specific event that upsets either of you--so that you can get a sense of what you're each talking about.

I'd come up with some family rules that give him some predictable structure to work within to help with outbursts (e.g., "We'll give everyone 15 minutes heads up before dinner and then at dinner all devices will be stowed.") so he doesn't feel like the most important part of his life is disproportionately affected by the mere whims of family life. Otherwise policing time and content of his texts and other platforms will seem punitive no matter what you do.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:58 PM on February 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

I get that there's a personality type who, as some other commenters are warning, will just go feral if any rules are imposed on them, but a lot of kids kids want and almost understand that they need and really respond to the safety net of rules even while simultaneously bemoaning the toooootal unfaaaaaairness of existence.

He's thirteen, he can't get that far without you. They can't sneak around so well if you are in text contact with her mother all the time. Some kids just need to be told no, you cannot do this thing until you are proving to us that you are responsible enough and the quasi-lying and tantrums and all this stuff isn't doing that. Show me grades commensurate with your ability, show me some good faith honesty about your plans and whereabouts, and we'll talk about social freedoms. Until then, she can come over here with your door open because you have not yet proved to us you understand consent and how to not exploit women, or if you go out to socialize you have to provide proof of attendance of the stated activity. Do that a while and we'll see what else can happen. Otherwise you can sit home.

We have a real problem in this country with men getting their way constantly because they'll get mad if they don't. I'm not sure a hands-off approach is working. He may have to just be mad more. You can't just give up because you accidentally forgot to set rules in advance, this isn't some legal situation in which he can sue because you created a loophole. This is "hey, we fucked up in planning for this, now we're recalibrating, sorry, it's gonna suck but we're trying to keep you alive up to and throughout adulthood so buckle in".
posted by Lyn Never at 12:59 PM on February 15, 2018 [41 favorites]

Nthing scarleteen and maybe Dr nerdlove too.
posted by brujita at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would try not to worry too much about the relationship seeming unhealthy. This is normal! He's 13. 13-year-olds don't have health relationships. They have dramatic, over-the-top, hormone-fueled shitfests of relationships. And that's okay! He needs to get through this phase so he can learn to have healthier relationships later on.

Talk to him about sex and safe sex and condoms and consent, absolutely. Other posters have covered this more in-depth, so I won't.

But I really think you need to step back a little here. I don't have kids, so take that advice for what it's worth. Trust him a little. He may get hurt. She may get hurt. And it's okay. That's how he learns. Model a healthy, loving relationship for him. Remind him that he is loved. Set limits, of course: give him a curphew. Make him put his phone down sometimes. Do activities with him. It's a good idea to have him invite her over.

You can't protect him from making his own mistakes. You can't protect him from getting hurt. You can only be a safe space to fall. The more you try, the more he's going to push back.

Remind him that he's loved, again, and take a step back. This will very likely pass quicker than you think.
posted by Amy93 at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2018 [12 favorites]

I forgot to add--I think that, in the long run, kids are likely to have relationships that mirror their parents' relationship. In other words, the behavior you have modeled for him is going to be what he ends up perceiving as normal. If you've modeled a largley healthy relationship, one where conflicts are dealt with without blowout drama (and that's the impression I get from your post), I wouldn't worry. You may want to be extra aware of the behavior you're modeling while he goes through this.

I can tell you from experience that my parents' relationship is a big reason I'm able to identify a relationship as unhealthy. I know that screaming and fighting and crying aren't normal. I know that a relationship should build me up, not tear me down. As long as he's seen this, I'd really try not to worry. Trust your instincts and monitor him and guide him, of course, but man, 13-year-olds in general will behave in ways that seem utterly insane to the rest of us rational people. Give it time. His underdeveloped brain just got hit with a huge hormonal shitshow. This will likely pass.
posted by Amy93 at 1:31 PM on February 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Well, there's normal and typical but frankly, I would be worried. I would also get clarification about what dating means--if it is sexual and spending time together alone, then you need to get him information about pregnancy and STDs and safety. In my parenting and teaching experience, 13 is at the younger range of normal sexual teen behavior, but it's normal enough.

We've seen some behavior from teen that worries us: controlling, picking fights, paranoia about other love interests, that sort of thing. And moving pretty fast when it comes to the physical stuff.

Finally, we'd also like to nurture more honesty and transparency. Teen is prone to lies of omission or slanting subterfuges -- teen is rarely outright dishonest -- but that really is contributing to a toxic atmosphere of distrust.

Controlling behavior and being fighty with you is relatively normal and unpleasant, but I think you should be concerned about paranoia over love interests and moving pretty fast, because you could be describing some obsessive behaviors that he feels unable to stop. And those can get very bad and very dangerous very quickly.

I'm also worried about the lying. If your son has tendencies towards anxiety, he may be in over his head, and his lying to you will be increasing his anxiety and he may be really struggling trying to get himself right. I'd also be concerned about being more sexually active than he or his partner are capable of dealing with.

So yeah, I'd be worried if I were you and I would contact his school and try to find out what they're seeing. A tough thing is that kids his age generally suck at therapy, but I think it would be a good idea for you to check in with someone for some feedback. You've mentioned a few things that I do find concerning and a bit beyond "teens be teenz."
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:54 PM on February 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just popping in to add another great resource for parents:

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent from Ages 1-21
posted by fairlynearlyready at 2:10 PM on February 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

They have dramatic, over-the-top, hormone-fueled shitfests of relationships. And that's okay

It's ok if he's exploding and howling at his parents. it's not ok if he's doing it to a girlfriend or boyfriend.

We've seen some behavior from teen that worries us: controlling, picking fights, paranoia about other love interests, that sort of thing. And moving pretty fast when it comes to the physical stuff.

it is absolutely not ok for some stranger's kid to have her first boyfriend be controlling and abusive and have that be brushed off because teen boys have impulses. that needs to be confronted before the rest of it can be ignored (and if the answer is No, of course he doesn't treat his peers the way he treats his parents, it can be.)

he will, one hopes, be absolutely outraged at the suggestion he might treat a crush/date with the same rage and contempt he treats his family, and do so in a way you can believe in. but this is the scary possibility, not that he cares too much or texts too much. if you have real reason to be concerned about this, you should force a Talk and force through his unwillingness to discuss it, because it matters that much. if you haven't already had a talk about how to treat crushes respectfully in all contexts, including but not limited to sexual ones, you must have it. ground him until he's willing to sit through it, if you have to. the other stuff doesn't matter at all, but this does.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:19 PM on February 15, 2018 [23 favorites]

First off, I'd address honesty parts, because kids get into situations they weren't expecting (for
example gee a party with no parents sounds super cool and fun but quickly becomes insane) But if he can't/won't be honest he can't get a way out and the help of a parent is invaluable. It's so easy to get overwhelmed and make bad decisions ontop bad decisions and dig a huge hole.

Also all of his future relationships are going to want honesty. Some framing of what do you think dating interest would think about behaviors is a great question to ask.

He is on the young side, but not super young. Finding out what he expects and wants from relationships, what dating means and other information about his perspective is great.

The advice to meet girl and parent(s) is spot on.

Teenagers are hard because you have to help them think for themselves. Reflections on appropriate jealously and stuff is difficult terrain. Some of this will be done by peers provided he's got a good social network, because they will tell him to cool it too. But reflecting on what she might like, or even what you would like in a relationship will help him. Also, reflecting his actions back on him "would you like it if she asked you who you were going out with every day?" Tie these conversations to specific behaviors, theoretical may be a little too much and seem overly judgemental.

Obsessiveness, calling, wanting to be around someone all time is very normal provided that she's into it too. If she's not then there are other issues and working through heartbreak.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:45 AM on February 16, 2018

You've not specified a gender for the 'love interest', but as a former gay teenager, my read of what's going on with your son changes A LOT if this is a gay vs a hetero relationship.
posted by Acheman at 9:58 AM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have 2 boys, 15yo and 11.5yo. I'm a fairly easygoing parent, but this shit would absolutely not stand in my house.

We live in a toxic society. Boys pick up toxic things. Controlling, picking fights, and paranoia about other love interests are red flags. This is getting into scary abusive boyfriend territory.

There is a middle ground between being obnoxiously authoritarian and permissively hands-off. You want to be more like a coach. A coach doesn't let their kid pick up bad habits, and these are bad habits. If your son is flipping out on you (and telling himself that its ok because you "made" him do it by restricting him), what is he letting himself do or say to his girlfriend if he feels jealous?

Setting parameters is going to be hard, but a couple things would be non-negotiable for me:

* He doesn't get to yell at or flip out on either parent. For this to work, you and your partner need to hold yourselves to the same standard and not yell at him. You need to decide what the consequence is if he yells or flips out on you, and it needs to be a consequence you are prepared to enforce. For example, if you say the consequence will be no phone for 24 hrs, you need a way to deactivate it even if he runs off with it and hides it from you. You need to think it through and communicate it before any other conversation happens.

* You're going to meet the girlfriend, and you're going to meet her parents. At the meeting, you'll exchange email addresses and phone numbers so you can talk to them any time you want to.

* I would have a conversation with her parents, away from the kids, and make sure everybody is on the same page regarding consent. If she wants to break up with him but is scared of his reaction, the girl's parents need to know that you are on her side and will prevent him from doing anything scary like calling her repeatedly or trashing her on social media. You think this is crazy? Consider that you yourself seem scared of his response.

* You need to actually be ABLE to prevent him from doing scary things. Hopefully it will never come to this but spend some time thinking about how you are going to rein him in if things get bad. You or your partner might have to work at home some because kids get up to a lot in that time between 3pm when school gets out and 5:30pm when the parents get home.

* The least important one for me is schoolwork, but I would set some limits. My standard would be that he has to turn in nearly all assignments, and can only, say, miss 2 assignments per class per semester. Our school has a way to look at the gradebook online so this is not hard to check. I'd have a consequence for if he doesn't live up to whatever your standard is, and let him know what the consequence would be.

Notice how none of these things are crazy controlling or create some kind of Romeo-and-Juliet forbidden love thing. You're not reading his texts, you're not breaking them up. After you meet her and her parents, you and the other parents can talk about how you feel about the kids being alone together.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:35 PM on February 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

Thanks, everyone, for your great advice. We're going to try and thread the needle here between establishing some ground rules and having ongoing conversations with teen about healthy relationships.

We're not going to lock down or anything when it comes to monitoring teen's texting, but we are going to reinforce our already in-place rules about putting the phone away when that's the right thing to do: when we're having dinner and doing family activities, for example. We're also reminding teen about rules we already have in place when it comes to hanging out with friends: let us know where you are (and be where you say); make sure an adult is there if you're at someone's house; hang out in public places; come home when you're supposed to. We're being clear about natural consequences here, too: losing the phone if you can't seem to keep your use under control when that's appropriate or not being allowed to hang out with friends if you're not doing that responsibly.

We're inviting the girlfriend over to dinner, too.

I also really appreciated the advice to make condoms discretely available but not - just like - hand them over. That was really great advice, and we're taking it.

We're also going to share some of the online resources with teen, seeing these as really good ways of letting him do some exploring on his own about healthy relationships.

We've already been having conversations about consent and healthy relationships; we're going to make sure those are ongoing conversations. We're especially going to talk more about our consent. Teen is in a hetero relationship (so love interest is a girl), and yes, some things about the gender dynamics at play here are making us uncomfortable. This means we're also shutting down the outbursts/tantrums, hoping that if we model a certain response to those in our environment, teen will be discouraged from resorting to such tactics in other contexts. For now, everything stops when an outburst breaks out: only after teen is calm again will we resume the conversation, and we're being mindful to refrain from rewarding those tantrums by "caving" in on reasonable boundaries. We also have the contact info for the love interest's parents, and we plan to reach out to them, too.

Finally, I should maybe say that teen son is my stepson; I didn't want to muddy the question's waters when I first asked it with that detail. I'm mostly on the parenting sidelines here, and while my partner and I work hard to model one kind of relationship for our children, they inevitably have front row seats to their other parents' relationships. We're working with teen's other parent, but there are of course some places where we're not in perfect agreement. We're doing out best to maintain consistency where we can while also adhering to our values when the kids are with us.

Thanks again, mefites. I really appreciated everyone's input. It takes a village.
posted by pinkacademic at 10:40 AM on February 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

« Older Help me come clean about the extent of my problems...   |   mic test, mic test, miiiccc teeestttttt Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.