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Teenage Relationships

by Addison
(Canada)

Hi.....
My son is 16. He has a girlfriend who is 17. She is a year ahead of him. We are accepting of their relationship and really like his girlfriend. However when they are together after visiting with us instead of going to the rec room to hang out there, they mostly go into his bedroom.

His girlfriend lives literally across town. In order for them to see each other effectively he had asked if she could stay on weekends over night. My husband and I said yes as long as it was fine with her parents and that she sleeps in the guest room.

Well two times now they are staying up much later then us and I don't sleep well and had gone down to his room at 4 am to find that she is still in his room and the door was closed. I feel we have been flexible but now I think my son is taking advantage of that flexibility.

I did say calmly it's time you guys go to bed. I have to be honest in my mind I felt they had done something sexually but I did not say anything of my thoughts. What direction or advice do you have on how to handle this?

Thank you.......

Comments for Teenage Relationships

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Sexuality And Teenage Relationships - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi,
Teenage relationships and teenage sexuality is something many parents worry about, so thank you for your question, it's a common issue for parents.

It sounds like they do have a very close relationship, and at that age, I would expect they are likely to be experimenting sexually at least to some extent.

I am assuming since your agreement with your son, is that she sleeps in the guest room, you are not happy with the idea of them having a sexual
relationship - or a sexual relationship under your roof? Do you have rules about sex before marriage? What constitutes a sexual relationship? Do you have rules about what degree of physical closeness they can have under your roof - and is that different elsewhere?

Clearly every family has their own standards and values about sex before marriage. Or what kind of sexual activity is acceptable - and how do you
communicate that with a teenager? It is OK to kiss for 2 minutes but if you feel yourself getting aroused you need to stop? I don't think many parents are going to be able to make those kind of rules or talk that openly about specific sexual activities!

Some parents have changed their rules on boy/girlfriends staying over based on age - or when the kids leave school, or only if the other parents are also informed and agree. Some parents hold sexuality and marriage as a very high value and are not prepared to compromise this stand at all.

I have a very relaxed style of parenting, and my priority was knowing where my kids were and being able to support them if required. I was fine with girlfriends or boyfriends staying over in the weekends, but not on school nights, and yes, they did sleep in the same room.

Some parents have a boundary of what you are comfortable with doing in public in front of us is fine - so that might be cuddling and kissing, but clearly going any further is not going to happen.

These can be tricky issues to raise with teenagers, particularly if sexuality is a taboo subject, or the issue of a sexual relationship not acceptable, or approved of.

Part Two Follows . . . .

Sexuality And Teenage Relationships - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

The thing to realize is, in saying your son's girlfriend has to sleep in the guest room, you are implying that they are not to have a sexual relationship in your house or sleep together. But you may not have actually laid that down explicitly as a condition of her staying over.

Some parents prefer not to know what goes on behind closed doors, and would prefer not to deal with it openly.

Teenagers do need their privacy, so that should be respected. But I know of parents who decide the doors need to stay open when girlfriends are over. Personally I am not comfortable with that as I think teens need privacy to build their relationship, sexual or otherwise, and leaving a door open implies mistrust. But for some parents and teens, it helps them to maintain the boundaries and keep control - sexual arousal can very easily get overwhelming and learning some control is a good thing in many ways.

So firstly, there is the issue where you feel your son is taking advantage of your flexibility in agreeing for her to stay over. And the other dilemma for you, is as part of his girlfriend staying over, you may have agreed with her parents perhaps to uphold their rules around their daughter. Have you actually talked to her parents? Do you know how they feel or what their position is? They may be accepting of a sexual relationship between them, but on the other hand they may be expecting you to uphold their values, or assume yours are the same as theirs.

Now this is a tricky one, you don't want to be in the situation of being the policeman, checking up on them and being the person to enforce your or her parent's rules. You run the risk of destroying your relationship with your son. Clearly you have a good one, or he would never have felt he could ask if she could stay over.

My advice to you would be firstly get clear with your husband, exactly what the boundaries are, and then most importantly keep the communication open between you all.

Part Three Follows . . .

Sexuality And Teenage Relationships - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

You need to talk openly with your son, and his girlfriend about what you expect and tell them about your concerns. You need to be honest about what you expect the rules are regarding a sexual relationship in your house, and that if they are not respecting that, they are putting you both in a very difficult position with her parents. You can talk about your reasons why you don't want them to be in a sexual relationship or concerns around safe sex, contraception, or any moral issues that are important to you.

Your son will most likely be mortified talking to you both in front of her, but it is better to be honest and get things out in the open, that way you open the communication for questions, discussion and keep things honest.

Also, make sure you listen to them, let them have a say about what is important to them.

Then you have to trust them to respect your boundaries, and not play policeman. If you don't feel they are respecting that, (and how will you know?) then you have to give a consequence, such as she can't stay over. Think carefully about what the implications of this could be, are you prepared to run her home? Or be the taxi driver and drop your son off on dates with her? Will your son stay over at her house? How will you deal with the resentment if he feels you are stopping his relationship?

Remember sexual activity can happen any time anywhere, whether she sleeps over or not. If they are already well down the track of exploring a sexual relationship then realistically they are not likely to pull back from that just because you want them too. Unless they are not sure, or want a reason to call a halt.

From my perspective, my main concern with teenagers, parents and sex is to keep the communication open, discuss issues about safe sex and contraception, and that any sexual relationship is one of mutual respect and at every stage each person has the right to stop.

Teenage years are very much the time for sexual awakening and exploration.

My thinking is it is better if teenagers do this from a place of respect, care and informed decision making, rather than guilty fumbling in the back of a car that results in pregnancy.

Making sex a taboo subject in families, simply pushes our kids into being secretive and dishonest. What young man will come and ask his parents for contraception advice if he is not supposed to be in a sexual relationship?

Part Four Follows . . . .

Sexuality And Teenage Relationships - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

I always talked openly with my children about safe sex, contraception, and just as importantly, about respecting their bodies and not feeling they had to move into a sexual relationship until they felt it was the right time to move that
relationship deeper. Making love can be an extremely intimate and bonding activity and teenagers are not always equipped to deal with the intensity of those feelings. Equally sex can be fun light-hearted and not such a big deal!
We have to learn to cope with the whole range of feelings, and learning about relationships - sexual or otherwise is one of the biggest developmental aspects of being a teenager.

I have counseled teenagers in all sorts of situations, ranging from rape to being thrown out of home because of being pregnant or found to be sexually active (boys and girls). In pretty much all these cases, sadly these teenagers did not feel they could talk to their parents. The level of communication was very poor, and consisted of rules and rigid thinking that did not leave a door open for any kind of discussion. Just as much harm is done to teenagers because of a breakdown in the relationship with their parents, than from many sexually related issues.

I have worked with teens who were committed to keeping a full sexual relationship on hold until marriage, and particularly if only one partner holds this value, the difficulty of having boundaries and the issues of respecting them.

My point is, teenagers are moving into adulthood, and need to be able to start making choices for themselves. Parents have values and morals they wish their kids to uphold, and you hope that as they begin moving into adulthood they will maintain your values. But the most critical thing of all, is being able to talk to each other, even if some of those values are not the same.

I am of the belief that openness and honesty is the most important factor and particularly with our teenagers, if we have subject areas that are taboo, then we start to close the doors on communication.

My kid's friends have always talked to me very openly because they know I will listen and answer their questions. Despite easy access to information these days, teenagers still sometimes have some very incomplete knowledge about sex. Sometimes the biggest issue for the teen is one of having to keep secrets from Mom and Dad and how that makes them feel. In no way would I want to undermine a parent's relationship with their child, or discount their values, but my priority is to listen to their needs, give information if required, and encourage them try to open up some dialogue with Mom or Dad.

Part Five Follows . . .

Sexuality And Teenage Relationships - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

So the best advice I can give you, is the Number One priority is to keep the doors to communication open with your son, even if he has different values to you. Number Two, is get clear with your husband what your boundaries are, and then be open and honest in discussing them.

As our kids grow we do have to be flexible in our rules, some things we would not let a seven year old do, that we would a 12 year old. When kids get to teenage years there are a lot of grey areas - and there will be lots of things we have different values or levels of importance than our kids. It is a matter of what you are comfortable with and being clear about that, and maybe also deciding if you have some flexibility around it - is it an age thing? Is it the length of their relationship? Is it simply a value you hold dear, in which case be clear on why and how can you communicate it with love?

Good luck! I know many parents will find this topic really helpful, as most of us have to work our way through this at some point!

I'd love you to report back, I am sure our readers would appreciate a follow up on how you go!

For more info on Sexuality and Teenage Relationships visit our Adolescence Page

All the best,
Annie Desantis :)

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