Dear RezilientKidz Team,
My son (age 13), is suddenly very interested in girls—and a lot of girls at school are very interested in him. He says that many of his peers are already dating, but my wife and I feel that this is just way too young. How can we teach him about healthy relationships that don’t involve romance?
This time in life is when many adolescents become intrigued and starry-eyed about the opposite sex. And our current social and media climate seems to push the issue to the forefront. In fact, it seems like society’s encouragement of romantic (and too often, physical) relationships is targeted to younger and younger ages.
While it’s only natural for a young man’s fancy to turn toward the opposite sex at this point in life, you as a parent have the unique privilege and responsibility to help your son learn to be successful in all of the different relationships he’ll experience, not just romantic ones. Because healthy friendships are so crucial in life, this would be a good time to underscore the importance of friendship and to teach your son about the qualities that will help him to be a good friend.
Focusing on Asset #15: Positive Peer Influence, is critical during these times. This is a key place to start – finding out about the friends that your son has right now – both guys and girls. What are they like and what draws him to them? How do his friends treat each other? How do they treat others outside their group? Explain to him that you can learn a lot about another person’s character (and your own) from the answers to these questions. One of the sayings I use all the time with my sons is, “show me your friends – and I’ll show you your future.”
Talk with your son about the character qualities that good friends exhibit. These include (but aren’t limited to) trustworthiness, commitment, loyalty, empathy, and compassion. Does your son exhibit these traits in his friendships, and do his friends show them? Are their interactions characterized by respect, honesty, and concern for others? Or do they treat others with disrespect and hurt them with pointed sarcasm?
Of course, this isn’t a one-time conversation—few topics of importance can be discussed in a single session. You’ll have to engage your son on a regular basis. Keep checking in with him about his relationships and continue to communicate the truth about what it means to be a good friend. A true friend builds others up and wants what is best for the other person. Good friends don’t ask the other person to do what is wrong. Instead, they encourage others to be the best they can be.
One additional note: It’s great to know what a real friendship is like, but knowledge by itself is not enough. After you talk with your son about his friendships, encourage him to take a critical look at his relationships and consider how he has been a friend (or perhaps not such a good friend) to others, and challenge him to make any needed changes.
As your son grows up, he will learn that romantic feelings often wax and wane, but a solid friendship is foundational to relationships of all kinds. By teaching him how to be a good friend now, you are making an investment that will yield dividends for years to come.