It wasn't that long ago (or was it?) when we were young and thought for the first time that we were "in love" And now, in one of fate's cruelest twists, our son or daughter is in the same place, feeling those feelings for someone else. For us, it was just "puppy love." For them, through our eyes, it may be innocent or it may be a real threat.
Growing up today is totally different than it was just a few years ago.
Popular culture and media emphasize romance and "love" in much different ways. For example, take the following headlines from some recent "teen magazines."
- Crush Clues: You Said Hi, Now What?
- Get Your Crush to Worship You: It's Easier Than You Think
- Turn Your Crush into Your Boyfriend: We'll Show You How.
- Diary of a Guy's Crush.
- Is Crushing Better Than Dating? Results From our First Ever Dating Survey!
- Sex Secrets - 8 Ways to Tell if You're Really Ready.
- The New Rules for Hook-up Safety
- Sex Pressure: How to Deal.
- 145 Ways to Look So Sexy!
Teens today also develop crushes in ways that sound foreign to many dads. Internet chat rooms, instant messaging, social networking sites, and cell phone messaging can be the source of budding relationships. Facebook even offers an app called Secret Crush where your Facebooking teen can let someone know anonymously that they have a crush on them.
So what's a dad to do?
What do fathers need to know about the modern world of crushing and what should they do when their child is in the height of a crush?
What Dads Need to Know About Crushes
First, some things have changed and some have not.
Crushes are not usually acted on. Just as when we were teens or tweens, there is still a tendency on the part of girls and boys to engage in some simple fantasy about their intended crush.
Teens are still, for the most part, too shy and insecure to even approach their crush. A recent online survey asks teens to indicate how often they act on a crush, and the answers indicated that it wasn't very often. Some representative comments from responding teens are:
- "I don't really act on them. I just tell one of my friends. It eventually get over it!"
- "I take crushes seriously but I'm too shy to step up to the plate and actually have a conversation with them."
- "I generally don't act on them because of fear of rejection."
- "I act on them, but not to him, I just discuss them with my friends. The biggest problem from me is that I am scared of being rejected."
- "I take my crushes really seriously, but I have a hard time telling them I like them because I am scared that they don't like me."
- "Lately, I've been majorly crushing on one guy. Talking is my greatest problem. I mean, I can't even have real conversations. I start to loose my mind and every thinng gets blocked out of my mind. It's like my mind is a big wipe board freshly washed clean, a clean slate."
- "Some crushes just last for a few days and I don't really take them seriously, but sometimes I get completely lovesick and they are all I ever think about. I don't act on crushes b/c I am a really shy person and I don't want them to think I'm a major dork."
There are gender differences. Boys and girls usually react very differently to their feelings of affection for an intended crush. Girls will tend to be more vocal about their crush, generally with their friends and occasionally with a parent. Boys, if they are aware of their feelings at all, will generally not vocalize them. The boys feel a little awkward about the feelings and generally won't talk to their friends unless the crush results in an eventual physical relationship. Girls also tend to have more intensive but shorter term crushes. Boys on the other hand will keep the fantasy alive longer.
Kids that do act on their crushes are often pretty forward. One of the things I hear from lots of dads is the concern about their daughters being pretty direct in flirting with a crush. This is a pretty big change from our teen days. I recall one mother telling me a few months ago about her seventh grade son arriving at junior high school registration and the "roving bands of bare midriff young women" scoping him out and approaching him with "corny pickup lines." And boys are often similarly assertive once they get up the nerve to approach an intended crush.
Don't panic immediately. Recognize that a child with a crush is a pretty normal thing-a part of growing up and learning to deal with this new hormonal surge. Expect there to be a little uncertainty as your child enters the realm of adolescence.
Be worried about big age differences. If there is a serious crush involving an adult, be cautious. Sure, didn't we all fantasize about a young teacher or a friend's older sister?
But if the crush seems to be getting serious or is reciprocated in any way, this is a danger sign and it's time to intervene.
Beware of going one on one too young. As your child reaches the conclusion to act on a crush, or as they begin to be an object of a crush, understand the dangers in pairing off too early. Some parents, especially some moms, think it's cute when pre-teen or early teen children have dates or begin dating exclusively. Study after study shows that early dating leads to early sexual activity. Waiting to pair off until age 16 or older tends to slow down the rush to sex. So encourage your children to be involved in group social interaction. Even consider hosting some mixed gender activities at your home or under your sponsorship. And make sure these are supervised by responsible adults.
Watch for the signs. In our case, our son's first sign of a crush was a "sign." It was on the back of his bedroom door and it said, "I love R.G." I suspect that he secretly hoped his mom or I would see it even though he acted surprised that we discovered his secret.
But it led to some interesting and meaningful conversations. Other signs might include seeing a certain name being doodled over and over on school papers or folders, or seeing hearts appear in strange places like on bedroom mirrors or under pillows.
Another sign that may prompt concern can come from monitoring your teens email, social networking and instant messaging communications.
If you are not either filtering access or having some monitoring on email, chat, social networking or IM activity, you need to do so.
Keep communication flowing. The most important thing a dad can do with his adolescent child is keep the lines of communication open. And not just about the opposite sex, but about everything that is important to them. School, friends, siblings, church and other areas of interest will be important as well. And if you have established a communicative relationship in other areas, talking about young love will be a natural extension. A couple of useful tools for encouraging communication are:
- Give them openings. Look for opportunities to bring up issues in a natural way. For example, watching a movie together can allow some conversation about crushes. Even popular television shows like can lead to similar discussions.
- "Some kids." Many parents have found success in initiating a difficult conversation by using the "some kids" approach. Start a comment with the phrase "some kids" and see if your child responds. For example, "Some kids worry about being rejected if they let on that they like someone." This can be a good conversation starter.
- Actively Listen. When a child raises an issue or concern, use the active listening technique. Active listening involves listening for meaning, not just for content.
Dealing with crushes and the first signs of teen love can be a little traumatic for a father. Dads who deal successfully with these issues do a lot of listening, watch for signs, and find ways to give gentle reminders about proper ways for their teens and pre-teens to handle these new feelings that come with adolescence.