Young Hearts: Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me….Boy Meets Girl and How To Handle Adolescent Attraction
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By Mia Bolaris-Forget
It all starts (fairly innocently) with tugging of the hair, and slowly graduates to the tugging of the heartstrings.
Little girls and little boys, who don’t even “understand” attraction, can frequently be heard talking about boyfriends, girlfriends and the person they are going to marry….most probably because they want to emulate mom and dad.
Sooner or later this “naïve” attraction blossoms (along with their bodies and hormones) into an insatiable curiosity and obsession. From a profusion of posters to uncontrollable conversation (and fascination) with the opposite sex, they begin to entertain thoughts and explore the wonderful world of dating.
While you may be “mortified”, it’s imperative you never let them see you sweat. And, according to experts, the only way to gain or maintain control is by letting go, or at least, loosening up on the reigns. Remember, it is the “forbidden” fruit that’s the most coveted and leads to a road of “destruction”.
Professionals suggest making attraction and dating a “normal” part of growing up. Let go of you preconceptions, misconceptions, and reservations. After all, interest in the opposite sex and dating didn’t seem anything to be embarrassed about when YOU were doing it. Normal children, will have normal curiosities, and under proper supervision will be able to have normal friendships and eventual relationships. Start by taking an interest in their love interest and even speaking (positively) about what it was like for you when you were his/her age, and don’t be afraid to discuss even (some) intimate issues or “embarrassing” situations, as well as good and bad decisions. Once you’ve established a healthy rapport and communication you may consider establishing the following guidelines and tactics:
1. Establish Proper Pre-Dating Practices: As early as 10 or 11 years old you can hear your kids and their friends discussing boyfriends, girlfriends and dating. Well, not dating exactly (though that’s what they’d like to believe they are doing), but more like hanging out in co-ed groups.
While experts say it’s understandable that you may initially feel awkward about your son or daughter hanging out in a mixed crowd, simply try to think of it as an extension of boy-girl childhood friendships in older, larger groups.
They also encourage parents to promote such “pairings” but to discourage one-on-one pairing between boys and girls. Children at this age may be old enough to “notice” that opposites attract they are far from mature enough to handle dating, despite societal and peer pressures to act older.
If your son or daughter can’t find other friends who are available to hang out in a group and demonstrates a sincere interest in someone of the opposite sex, be prepared to supervise and go out with his/her family to give them a chance to mix and mingle and learn more about socializing. Also experts suggest getting your child involved in co-ed extracurricular activities which affords them the opportunity to have fun, perhaps stay fit, or improve their scholastic skills, while also mingling in non-threatening environments…and this may help reduce awkwardness for later encounters and dating experiences.
2. Chaperone Newbie Couples and Daters: While your child may not think he or she needs supervisions, especially if your referring to the dreaded C-word (Chaperone), you need to be cleaver and crafter about monitoring their dating and dating activities.
By 14 or 15 they may feel mature enough to venture away from the standard group, as gratifying as it may still be, to explore their independence.
Start out by suggesting allowing your child to go “solo” if you accompany him or her and his/her date to a restaurant or movie but allowing them to sit “by themselves”. A derivation of this may include drive them to a public place (such as the mall) and picking them up in a specific amount of time. You may also want to make it known that they need to check in at certain time intervals and that you’ll furnish them with a cell phone, offering YOU access at your discretion. You may also want to invest in a ping-pong or pool table, or guiding them through projects, all alternatives that allow them to be together (solo) but that keep their mind, hands, and bodies occupied. Remember, teens often converge with nothing constructive in mind and idle behavior can lead to inappropriate experimentation.
3. Host a “Dress” Rehearsal: Although I can remember a time when the objective was to marry your High School sweetheart, or at least get his class ring and have him accompany you to the prom, teen relationships have become much more transient with most lasting only a few weeks to a few months.
According to experts the liaise-fair attitude teens hold about intimacy (which our generation probably helped create and foster with a “throw in the towel” attitude) has generated a generation of adolescence that have made traditional dating obsolete. While most still do formally congregate in pairs for ceremonious occasions, generally, a more casual group trend dominates. In some ways this is good, but in others, it’s not because teens seem to have no concept of attachment and commitment. Hence, it up to YOU, mom and dad to teach and inculcate proper protocol for more structured dating.
According to experts, spouses can “act out” dating scenarios (and don’t forget to incorporate lots of humor to ease the tension, and awkwardness, and break the ice), or they can arrange a date for themselves and portray appropriate dating rituals and behaviors. Experts advise, advising about everything from paying and accepting compliments to paying a bill, and saying goodnight.
Some “dates” (such as sweet sixteen parties or the prom) may even can be costly and require a bit more social etiquette. Make sure both boys and girls are fully prepared (to avoid embarrassment) and also mentally and emotionally up for the challenge. Also make sure to go over the details and dynamics well in advance.
Decorum Dynamics Include:
· The art of saying please and thank you
· Eloquence in greeting:
o Greet everyone in the room as soon as you enter starting with elders
o Greet parents or peers and other adults by Mr. and Mrs. unless otherwise instructed
o Smile and extend your hand for a handshake or your cheek for a kiss
o Bring something (flowers, bottle of wine (provided by parents), cookies etc. to someone’s house when visiting for the first time or on formal occasions.
· Don’t complain about or criticize arrangements
· Thank the host/hostess prior to leaving and don’t forget to say goodbye to all at the event and make a comment about how nice it was to meet them.
· Offer some sort of compliment after a gathering
· Always remember to ask if there is anything you can do to help and be prepared to pitch in.
· Send a letter or thank you note shortly after the event as a courtesy.
Pre-Dating Dynamics Include:
· Emphasize to your son/daughter the importance of always having something to offer to a conversation without dominating it or “enforcing” his/her opinion, as well as, the ability to effectively carry on an interesting conversation and “entice” others into it.
· Stress the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and pleasant disposition. Even if there’s something your child doesn’t like, they don’t have to make their feelings known right away. Give them permission to give it time and a chance and encourage him/her to remain optimistic. Explain that
people are generally genuinely drawn to fun-loving, happy, people with a positive outlook on life. Making a (un-necessary) big deal out of “little” things can be very frustrating for others, especially a date who may be doing his/her best to impress your son or daughter.
· Make sure to introduce friends and parents. Remember, others may not yet know or feel comfortable in or with everyone in the room or group. If your child has the best relationship or bond with friends and their family, teach him/her that it’s his/her obligation to make sure everyone is formally acquainted, the names and titles are exchanged and that he/she also is responsible for ensuring everyone is having fun and is comfortable.
· Make sure you child is skilled at extending invitations in a manner, which allows other the opportunity to decline without feeling guilty.
· Teach your child how to properly answer and speak on the phone. Distinguish the difference of acceptable verbiage for adults, peers, relatives, and even professional calls.
· Articulate the importance of keeping dates and not breaking obligations, as well as the importance of being prompt.
· Teach them how to write and age appropriate cared, note, etc., and the art and power of gift giving.
Dating Dynamics (For Older Teens):
· Develop their dynamic for not only conversing but also expressing their sentiments and feelings (of affections). Coach them in the art of giving and receiving (age) appropriate compliments and how to properly show and display interest and affection without creating uncomfortable or compromising situations or crossing inappropriate boundaries.
· Advise them and instruct them on the art of making arrangements. Emphasize the skill and importance of calling ahead, leaving their name and making reservations. Also teach them the gravity of being well prepared well in advance and rarely, if ever, waiting until the last minute to secure and confirm plans.
· Help them get over their “awkwardness” by practicing posture, sitting and standing etiquette, proper and appropriate body language and how to pose for (formal) pictures without looking “silly” or “posed”
· Acquaint them with and educate them on doorway etiquette and the importance of either holding a door open or pulling a chair out (for a lady) and the ability to graciously accept such kind gestures (from young gentlemen).
· Practice asking for a dance, as well as going over hand and appropriate hand and body positioning for slower dances. You may even want to teach them some fancy footwork.
· Instruct them on the art of sending, giving and receiving notes, cards, gifts, etc.
· Demonstrate and enforce the art of how to receive and introduce a date and how to interact with, greet, and introduce someone they consider a “significant other”.
· Teach them how to balance work and play. This is especially important as dating relationships become more monogamous and “serious” so that they don’t neglect school, family and friends.
· Advocate the ability to express and stand up for their opinion (without being overly assertive), keeping and open-mind, but not compromising their values, as well as things to be mindful of when dating (good and bad).
· Teens should know how to be able to accept a dance or politely decline.
· Coach them on coat checking, valet parking procedures and the tipping involved.
· Go over ordering from a menu, ordering wine or a “drink” for much older adolescents, paying a restaurant bill and tipping the wait-staff.
· Instruct them on dressing appropriately and for the occasion. Remind them that not every situation is the same and that different and calls for different types of socially appropriate attire.
· Finally, learn the lingo (of the streets and the new dating generation). Make sure your son or daughter fully understands what the terms, slang or not, mean or implicate and make sure to also explicitly explain what’s acceptable, what’s not, and the ramifications.
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