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November 1, 2022

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 92

I’m Not Ready for My Kid to Be in Love. Help!

Episode 92

How should we talk to our kids about what it means to fall in love? Parents know how good it can feel to make a strong connection and be on the receiving end of affection, but we also want to shield kids from heartbreak. Dr. Lisa helps walks us through how we can talk with our kids about both the emotional and physical sides of love, while Reena asks key questions about how to deal with the fact that these conversations are often uncomfortable for both parents and kids. Dr. Lisa explains how we can keep these important discussions going without being awkward or dismissive – offering a “swat team” strategy that can make a big difference. This episode also includes key guidance about how to make the most of the openings our kids provide to talk about young love.

November 1, 2022 | 29 min

Transcript | I’m Not Ready for My Kid to Be in Love. Help!

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 92: I’m Not Ready For My Kid To Be In Love. Help!


The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional

mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,

consult a physician or mental health professional.


REENA: The topic of love. Young love. You remember that feeling when you’re finally attracted to someone and yeah, it’s like a drug.


LISA: Crushes, right?


REENA: Crushes.


LISA: You just think about the crushes you had.


REENA: Yeah. And the things you know at 42, that you look back at the choices you made.


LISA: And 52 Reena, nearly 52. 


REENA: We got this great letter Lisa that I think speaks to a lot of things that people are wondering about when their kids fall in love. And it says, ‘Dear Dr. Lisa, my 14-year-old stepdaughter is very very interested in having a boyfriend. We want her to have a healthy romantic relationship eventually, but how do we know when that is? She isn’t going on dates or hanging out with guys, however we do know, through her phone usage, that she does a lot of texting to a few specific guys in her grade. Recently, with one specific guy, they’ve started texting back and forth to each other, I love you. How do we support her big feelings while also explaining the realities of young love and lust in a way that encourages her to be safe physically and emotionally? Love the podcast and recommend it to everyone. Thanks so much for your consideration.’ Where does one begin, Lisa? Where?


LISA: Well I’ll tell you where I’m going to begin with this, which is the part in the letter saying she’s not going on dates and she’s not hanging out with guys. So for right this moment, there’s no contact, so to speak. There’s no physical contact. As far as we know right now, this is an emotional engagement, and I think as we help young people, or try to help young people, because part of what’s in this letter is how do you even have these conversations with kids. 


REENA: Yeah.


LISA: As we try to have these conversations with young people, we could try to sort of tease apart. There’s the emotional side of one’s romantic life, and there’s the physical side of one’s romantic life. So I think we can start here. 


REENA: These are big feelings, so when you talk about emotion, I’m assuming there’s a lot to unpack there.


LISA: There is. And the first thing I want to say is anyone who’s like, whoa, 14 sounds young, it’s not. And when we look at the research on when kids start to have romantic activity or crushes or talk about it, it has for many decades Reena, been around fifth grade. 


REENA: Wow, really?


LISA: Fifth grade’s when that conversation starts. And I actually have a memory of being in fifth grade there sort of being back and forth about this kid I had a crush on, and we didn’t do anything about it, but there was discussion about it. 


REENA: Why fifth grade?


LISA: You know, I don’t really know. I don’t really know. But I think it’s important for us to just start with that baseline, that I think so many baselines feel really wonky after the pandemic, like we can’t tell if kids are on time or premature or if they’re delayed. You know, a 14-year-old girl or boy who is really into the idea of a romantic life and really wants to be in love and is texting and sharing deep feelings, that is totally right on time developmentally, even if for the parent it’s like, whoa, this feels like a lot. And certainly the words ‘I love you’ feel pretty intense.


REENA: Yeah. So when you’re older and you’ve had some experience and you know it might be puppy love, but to them, this is the love of their life that they’ve found, and maybe it is. How do you deal with that without feeling dismissive, and then also how do you not freak out that they’re going to be alone together and things are going to happen?


LISA: Okay, great questions. Okay, so starting with the puppy love idea, I think it is really important what you just said, to honor how much this means to kids. And even if we’re like, yeah, this is going to last five more minutes, even if we believe that, being dismissive of it, seeming to minimize it, isn’t nice, and it isn’t necessary. And I’ll give you another example that is even more dismissable but shouldn’t be, boy bands. 


REENA: Okay. 


LISA: You know how it is very very common for, especially young girls, to have rip-roaring crushes on entire boy bands or particular boy band members. 


REENA: Yeah.


LISA: There’s a lot of like, sort of trying out one’s romantic self, you know, daydreaming about a love life. There’s a lot of energy that goes into that, and for a lot of girls especially, those sort of boy band fantasies can tie them over for years. 


REENA: Interesting. 


LISA: So they do important work. And of course, if you listen to the lyrics of boy band songs, they’re so aware of how to market exactly to that demographic. But boy bands get it. There’s love that is looking for a location, so I just want us to be gentle and kind about this is where kids are. You know, kids of all genders get this way, and we want to honor it. And what’s so gorgeous in this letter is that the writer says I want to support a healthy love life. You know, the letter writer isn’t saying how do I stop this?


REENA: Right, yeah. 


LISA: So do your question, right, of like how do we support this. We can start to say, how is this person treating you? Do you feel good around them? You know, are they bringing out the best in you? Do they respect and honor you? You know, you can ask those questions, you will get eye rolls, and that is okay. 


REENA: Wait a minute, no one has ever said how is this person treating you and that feeling you get and you want more of that feeling. But you’re saying tell them to sort of look at how they’re being treated by this person. And I understand why that would be important, but how do you get that through to them amidst the eye rolling? 


LISA: So, you have to find your openings for sure, right? And it sounds like this parent is looking at this kid’s texts, and let’s presume that the kid is well aware of this, you know we’ve talked about this on other podcasts, if you’re looking, they should know. 


REENA: Yeah. 


LISA: So one way the adult in this might walk up to it is to say, hey, I was checking your texts and it seems like things are getting pretty intense with that kid you’re texting with, I saw that you guys were talking about being in love. How’s that feeling for you? Is that what you want? Is that feeling, you know, what you had in mind with this person?


REENA: Oh my gosh, this is so uncomfortable. I don’t know that I could do this. I don’t think I could ever do this. 


LISA: Yeah, and it’s also clear that this person may have a lot more information from the context of the texts that very much it’s what the person had in mind. And so then, maybe if that’s the way they want to go, they could say something like, you know, this is really exciting, it’s so fun to feel wanted, it’s so fun to find somebody you connect with. I’m going to say this, you know this already, but I’m still going to say it, you should start your love life with the highest standards for how people treat you, and you should never lower your standards. 


REENA: Wow. That’s a good conversation to have. So I guess I’m hearing from you, first validate their feelings, why they’re feeling good and liking being with this person. And then bring in the, hey, keep the standards up, here’s what you need to keep in mind. And you think that that might be more palatable. 


LISA: I think that’s right. That, you know, and you can even see, I see from the text chain that this person’s talking to you in a really kind way, and they like and respect you, I love that. Right? If you see good things, comment on them. The same parent may see things that they don’t feel good about, and they can say, you know, honey, I love you so much and I’ve got to tell you that I didn’t like the way he spoke to you that day, and I’m just going to put that right there and you should know that. So there’s an interesting thing happening here with the parent being able to see the texts, because they can in many ways eavesdrop on what’s happening here. 


REENA: Yeah, yeah.


LISA: I’m not sure that’s ideal to be honest. I think that when we think back to our love lives and our early flirting and texting and note passing, we did all of this away from adults, and there’s something to be said for that too. 


REENA: So when, I don’t know that I would talk about their texts with them, because it does feel intrusive. 


LISA: It does. Okay, so if the parent wants to go the other direction, which is to have no access to this information by text, and think, okay, this is getting pretty intense, what they might wait for is for the girl to say, hey, can you drop me off at the mall to hang out with this kid? Right? They might wait to say anything until it moves from the realm of the digital and discussion that has no physical contact into the realm of maybe being together in person. Because, you know, setting aside the possibility of sending inappropriate photos or things like that, text flirting, theoretically, is a pretty safe thing to do, right? I mean that’s a pretty low-risk way for kids to start to flex their romantic muscles. 


REENA: So don’t freak out. I want to get into the physical side of it all, Lisa. What do parents need to know and keep in mind? Because, you know, bottom line, no one wants anyone to get pregnant at this point. How do you have these conversations? What is really important to talk to them about?


LISA: Well, let’s say the kid does say, hey, my friend, we’ll name him Tony, my friend Tony wants to hang out at the mall, would you mind dropping us off? His dad is going to drop him off, would you mind dropping me off so we can hang out at the mall for a little while. So now that you’re into the possibility of something really happening that is not just a conversation, and of course, there’s a million versions of that, like it could be a party, it could be any variety of things. So here the parent may want to take the opportunity to do what the letter writer is saying, which is to offer some guidance about what a healthy romantic life looks like. And the way I like for us to do this with kids of any gender is to say, you know, when it comes to the physical side of your romantic life, the first question that you want to try to tune in to is what do you want to have happen. Start with your own wishes and desires, you’ll think next about what the other person wants, but first I want you to tune in to what you want. Okay. That will get you to the mall, eye rolls all the way, your kid may throw themselves from the moving car while you’re saying this, that is okay. Not the throwing themselves from the moving car, but it is okay if you just start with those words and that’s as far as you get before it’s clear your kid cannot tolerate another second of it. That is pretty typical of these conversations, this is not one big birds and bees spiel that does not work, I call it SWAT team interactions. You’re in, you’re out. And so start there.


REENA: I love that. SWAT team interactions. In and out. This is totally that type of conversation. When you talk about this sort of conversation about physical, how realistic do you think it really is for parents to be approaching kids about this? They’re at this age, they don’t want to hear anything from you, let alone about their romantic lives. 


LISA: Well here’s the thing, they look like they don’t want to hear anything from you about their romantic lives. But what we know from the research, and actually from what kids tell us, is they take very seriously what their parents say. If their parents say it in an inviting, kind, I want the best for you way. Now, they cannot, in the moment, it would be so weird in the moment, if the kid were like I am so glad you brought this up. Right? I am so glad you mentioned that my desires should sit at the center of my romantic life. Like, no kid’s going to say that. But it is worth saying. But the way you’re most likely going to hear about it though Reena, is when they talk about other kids and other kids’ romantic lives. So the chances of you having a deep romantic conversation about your kid’s love life are very low, depending on the house you’re in. But, I will tell you, some of the best conversations I’ve ever had actually with either of my daughters is when they bring up something that’s happening with somebody else’s boyfriend or girlfriend or somebody else that has a crush or somebody else got dumped. And there, you can drop all sorts of wisdom in a way all kids can tolerate. 


REENA: Wow, so give me an example of how you hear this coming up in different ways that can be an example for you to pass on to your kids. 


LISA: So say you’re driving along and your teenager is like, oh man, I have this classmate and she’s terrific, but man, she is with a lot of different guys and you know, there’s just a lot going on. And sort of put it out there in that way. And sometimes kids will do this. So you have to squelch your first impulse, which may be what, what’s she doing, why is she doing all of that, if that is your first impulse, and really take that as an opening. So the kinds of things that one could say in that moment is, huh, I wonder if that’s what she really wants. I wonder if what she’s getting from that is working for her, or is it just working for the guys in that story? You know, those kinds of questions. And you may be done, already, your kid may be like, okay, new topic, forget I brought that up. But I also know that when kids are putting out information to us about what’s going on in other kids’ love lives, they usually are asking a question, or they usually are getting a reality check. And so, if a parent’s not sure what to do in those moments, the very best thing, you’re never going to mess up if you say this, huh, what do you think about that?


REENA: Oh, that’s a good line.


LISA: That’s the line. That’s the line. Because usually, then the kid will start to spin it out a little bit more, and you’ll learn more about where your kid’s at, and you may need to just end that by saying, you know what? I totally agree with you. Or just saying, huh, well let me tell you, at 52 I see that a little bit differently, do you want to hear how I see it? But I will tell you Reena, dollars to donuts, the better conversations you’re going to have about love lives are when kids are talking about their peers, or if you’re like watching, there’s a lot of romantic stuff that kids like to watch, you know, a lot of movies. What was the one that was really huge over the last few years? “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” 


REENA: Yes, yes. A great series.


LISA: And you know, they are great. They’re totally fun to watch. And if your kid is watching them, you should totally watch them with them. But the thing that’s tricky about those, they’re very idealized romantic movies. They’re very dreamy and Instagramable and beautiful, and you know, it’s a little bit of a set up in terms of what really goes down, which is a conversation you can have. Just say, oh man, this is great, this is like Hollywood version. What’s it like really at school? Like what’s happening really between kids at school?


REENA: I love that line. What do you think about that? Because I as a parent would just be passing judgment on that kid, pre-Lisa. Not having Lisa in my life, I would just be like, that’s crazy, what are they thinking! But you’re right, you’d probably get more by asking that one question. I want to ask you also, you know as parents, we all bring our own baggage to all these different issues that we talk about, but in the particular issue of love, if you have had a failed marriage, if you have been on a string of dates and they haven’t turned out well, or, you know, things just haven’t gone your way, how do you make sure that your baggage, or your viewpoint of love doesn’t get passed down? I guess, how do you clear the slate to really better equip your kid to have successful romantic love relationships?


LISA: Oh that’s such a good question. I’m going to frame it back to you a little bit more positively, which is, how do you take all of your hard-earned wisdom and try to pass it on to your kid? I mean so much of parenting is like, oh kid, I do not want you to make the same mistakes I made. 




LISA: Like can I please give you advice so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes I made. 


REENA: Yeah.


LISA: Okay, so I think that’s what you’re getting at. 


REENA: Yeah. 


LISA: Like that idea that you want them to not repeat errors that do not need to be repeated. Okay, so that’s the wonderful wish. One rule that we should basically live by is kids really don’t want to hear about their parents’ love lives. Right? They really don’t, I think there are a lot of kids who would talk about almost anything else before they talked about their parent kissing somebody, much less anything further. So if you go down that road, the chance that your kid is trying to just get out of the conversation as fast as absolutely possible is really really high. SO what I would say instead is, can you distill your wisdom a little bit? Can you make it a little bit more generic? So say that you have a kid who’s like I can’t tell what’s going on, like this person’s giving me mixed signals, I don’t know what to make of it, I feel a little jerked around, like say they bring that to you, or they talk about a friend having that experience maybe. So if you could say something back like, yeah, you know one thing I  have learned in my many decades is if you can’t tell how somebody feels about you, it might be because they’re still trying to figure it out themselves. 


REENA: That’s good. 


LISA: Right? So there’s like good advice in there, but the kid doesn’t have to picture their parent being a romantic person. Which like, they don’t want to picture. 


REENA: That’s so good. That’s so good. Yeah. Just going back, you’ve made so many great points. Just to kind of recap here, when you’re talking about the emotional component of love, and wanting to get your kid to see that, what really matters?


LISA: I think what really matters is that we appreciate that you can’t have all the highs of a crush without exposing yourself to the lows of getting your heart broken. Right? You can’t have the highs of just that really special feeling of belonging to somebody as their boyfriend or girlfriend without opening the door to being hurt. And as parents the one thing we don’t want is for our kids to be in pain. Like we just don’t. And so I think what comes through so clearly in this beautiful letter is this parent is like, oh my kid’s having the good side of this right now, but I know the ways this can really be painful, and is there anything I can do about that? And the truth is, on the emotional side, probably not. Our kids are going to get their hearts broken, and our job is to support them and to be really validating of that experience while at the same time saying to them, you’re going to be okay, this isn’t going to be your last romance, but I know this hurts a lot right now. Like that’s what we can do. But then there’s the physical stuff, where also things can definitely go wrong, so we go back to that idea of first, we really want kids to think about what they want to be doing, and give them a right to want things, but also a right to center on what they want, and not just do things because somebody else wants it. If you can come back to that conversation, try, and you know, these are going to be quick, SWAT team conversations. You might say, after you know what you want, your job is to figure out what the other person wants, right? Or you talk about that with other kids, right? Oh, that may be what she wants, but what does her partner want? Right? Talk about it in that way. And then say, the best romance, the way it should go down, is that both people are paying attention to what the other person wants, and that’s the only thing that’s happening in that interaction. 


REENA: So lessons in love. I love this, from Dr. Lisa Damour. This is so valuable. What do you do Lisa, because you know it happens eventually, they get their heart broken? Which is part of life, but like you said, we’re good parents, we want to sort of shield them from the pain, but this is part of the process, right?


LISA: It is. It is part of the process. And what I want us to remember is you can’t feel real joy if you can’t also feel real pain. Like you don’t get to pick and choose here. The emotional range that we feel, the highs are only as high as the lows are low. And I think it’s scary when kids are in a lot of pain, and they don’t have good perspective, and that’s what we can bring to the table, is that we do have perspective. And what we want to think about is knowing that we can’t prevent their hearts getting broken, and then instead putting our attention on preventing other outcomes that we do worry about. Like you said, things like pregnancies or STDs or you know, non-consensual interactions. I think it’s almost worth separating those kinds of conversations, not having every conversation about a love life turn into a conversation about how not to get pregnant or an STD. I think that that sort of takes the fun out of it. So another way we can go at this is to really enjoy conversations with kids when they’re talking about their friends having boyfriends or girlfriends or the people they like, and for lack of a better word, indulge those, celebrate those. And then also at a different time, saying how does she know she’s not going to get pregnant in that relationship? Or are you sure they’re keeping themselves safe? Are you sure they’re not going to do anything they really regret? And of course your kid will roll their eyes, that is okay, but you also might get an answer. 


REENA: Wow. Topics I’m not ready for but I’m sure glad we are talking about this. Because it comes sooner than most people think. 


LISA: It sure does. And no one’s ready. No one’s ready for it when it happens. It’s good to know. 


REENA: And little did I know from fifth grade to seventh grade new kids on the block carried me. 


LISA: Yep, yep. They were your boyfriend. All of them.


REENA: They were my boyfriend. Who knew? So what do you have for us Lisa, for parenting to go?


LISA: I want to underscore something from the letter that is really right in there. Which is entering the romantic world is a normal part of healthy development, and we don’t want to forget it. I think, you know, when kids start talking about love lives and crushes and dating and saying I love you by text, it is frightening to parents, because like you said Reena, it’s a lot more complicated than they realize. But if we face this as a normal, healthy part of their development, and encourage the healthy, wonderful sides of this, we are pointing our kids in the right direction.  


REENA: And that’s all we ever really want to do. Is get them to the right direction.


LISA: Exactly.


REENA: So next week we’re going to talk about whether you should monitor your kid’s grades online. 


LISA: This is a tricky one Reena. So I’ll see you next week.


REENA: I’ll see you next week. 


The advice provided here by Dr. Damour and the resources shared by her AI-powered librarian, Rosalie, will not and do not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.