Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital.

Valentine’s Day is here and parents are crushing me with questions about how to deal with their teenager’s romantic adventures. Let me see if I can get to the heart of the matter and provide some information on this topic.

There is no one age when it’s “okay” for teens to begin dating. It is typical for younger teens to go out in groups. This could set parents at ease as long as they know who is in the group.

Some teenage girls may start dating as early as 13, boys at 14. Hopefully that is based not on age, but on the maturity of the child. Some good family discussion is also helpful in establishing dating guidelines.

How do you set those guidelines? Hopefully you have already established a good line of communication with your child. If so, encourage them to ask questions about sex if you find they are talking about boyfriends and girlfriends. Remember to do your best to withhold any personal judgments.

Parents need to be supportive and interested, but not overbearing to the point of intervening in a child’s social life. You can, on the other hand, be clear about your values. Those values could be the foundation on which your teens will make future decisions.

Watch television or listen to the radio with your teen. When you do, comment on the sexuality portrayed in the media. Then discuss the healthy, responsible decisions one needs to make about sex in real life.

Explain to your children that the use of drugs and/or alcohol will alter anyone’s judgment and make them vulnerable. Offer a guilt-free, no-questions-asked ride home if your teenager is ever in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable.  

And be there for the breakups, with a little extra sensitivity and some patience and hugs. Reassure the teen that you know that they are feeling sad and that the sadness does go away. Sharing a story about one of your breakups may help as well. After all, your breakup created an opportunity for you and your partner to meet and create a family. 

Hopefully these tips will hit the target better than Cupid’s arrow when it comes to talking with teens about relationships.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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