Q: Our 17-year-old son has his first girlfriend. He’s always been a respectful and compassionate person, who is the outwardly sensitive. But since he started dating this girl (which we do like), he’s eating, breathing, sleeping, dreaming about this girl. They’ve been dating half a year now and of course have become closer.
During the school year, he’d drive half an hour one way to see her a couple of times a week. But now that school is out, he wants to spend time with her every day. He does yard work for gas and fun money, but now he spends it all on her and their relationship.
We’ve raised our son to know right from wrong, and taught him what God has to say about sexual intimacy. We’re also trying to be understanding of their relationship, but our son also needs to understand he still has curfews and other duties at home. Any advice on navigating this would be appreciated.
A: Ah, “the course of true love never did run smooth!” That Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two about young love (the quote is from A Midsummer’s Night Dream), but for many parents of teens who fall in love for the first time, that relationship can test the bonds of family.
A few things can help you navigate your son’s first serious love relationship. First, remember that his feelings are very strong—and unfamiliar—which gives the relationship a different feel from other crushes. His feelings are as real as your love for your spouse, although you know from experience that he’s in the infatuation stage. You also know that his age means the relationship will likely not last the summer. All that means is that you should tread lightly when discussing his feelings. Try to stay on the balance beam between too harsh or realistic comments and too empathetic ones.
Second, you are still the parent! You can set limits on how often he sees the girl in person, regardless of who’s paying for the gas. Yes, he should have freedom, but all freedom comes with limits. Personally, I would make sure he has plenty of household chores to keep him occupied at home some days, as well as spending time with friends.
Third, get to know the girl. One of your limits could be that he must bring her back to your house at least once a week to spend time hanging out there. Talk to her, find out what makes her tick, have your son and his girlfriend cook dinner for your family one night, etc. Invite her family over for a barbecue. That way, you’ll have develop a relationship with her as well, and provide opportunities to discuss some of your values in the course of natural conversation.
Finally, talk to them about God, but don’t preach. Pray for them both. You could also think about starting a youth Bible study in your home once a week this summer. Ask your pastor for a good book for that, not necessarily one related to relationships, but one that would spark good discussion and consideration about spiritual things. Have your son invite his friends, and she can invite hers. But you should provide the location and the snacks, then let the kids do the study. Be available for questions, but allow them to tackle things on their own.
Remember, ultimately, your son is responsible for his own actions. It sounds like you’ve done a good job guiding him and showing him the path of righteousness. Now it’s time to step back and let him go on his own. Yes, he might make mistakes. Yes, he’s liable to have his heart broken. But that’s all part of growing up.