Almost on a daily basis, in our clinical practice we meet parents who are helped in bringing up their children by their own parents. We also meet children who share their experience, play and activities with their grandparents. We should bear in mind that most children experience their first relationships and connections in their families with their primary carers or persons who take care of them. Such experience is very important because the child transfers it to his/her future experience in adolescence and adulthood. Thus parents transfer their own parents' experience into their relationship with their children.
Love and sexuality
Puberty is the period in child development which most often starts at the age of 12 and finishes at 15, with the start of adolescence. It is a time when parents need to prepare for major changes to happen in all aspects of their child’s development. Changes in hormonal balance cause bodily changes, secondary sex characteristics develop, emotional stability is shattered and so teens are inclined to sudden mood swings and overreactions, and one of the most striking changes is sudden increase in criticism towards everything around them. It seems that the purpose of the day is to find faults with their parents and watch for their mistakes. The process of individualization and self-discovery starts.
Interests for romantic love, sexuality and creating emotional connections with peers grows from tumultuous and intense psychophysical development of teens. Many parents underestimate teenagers’ love thinking it is not real, but all the feelings present there are real. Some love feelings are romantic, some are immature love, and some may indicate mature love. People of all ages can feel all sorts of love feelings, but it is especially important that teenagers know how to distinguish between various love feelings.
· Romantic love means to fall in love with the very idea of love, when the love for someone is more important than what we give and receive in the relationship
· Immature love is based on phantasy and unfulfilled needs and takes an individual’s life over so that s/he has difficulties in functioning in other areas of life
· Mature love provides us with energy and vitality in all areas of life. It is based on accepting all real characteristics of another person. Mature love is strong and can survive rough times. It gets stronger with time and helps the development of an individual and the couple. It means that the two are best friends, love each other and like each other as persons.
Teenagers need to know that the development of mature love requires time, that trust and love gradually grow, that mature love is not love at first sight.
Preoccupation with feelings of love in teenagers is most often manifest in their attention mostly attracted by such contents (magazines, movies, their peers’ or adults’ stories), have pronounced need for privacy whether alone or with friends (so that they can indulge in their imagination). Strong focus on their own appearance and spending their pocket-money for beauty products are connected with the aforementioned.
Not only the parents do not take teenagers’ love feelings seriously, but they also have difficulties in coping with their children’s interest in sexuality and sexual relationships. Together with the emotional experience of love, there is also physical arousal and the need to explore one’s own and other’s body. Talking about such issues traditionally belongs to the most difficult discussions waiting for parents to tackle. Besides what their children learn about physical development, physiological reactions and sexually transmitted diseases from school physician’s lectures at school, it is important that parents talk about the following:
1. The teen or the adolescent needs to know which touch is unpleasant and prevent or stop everyone who tries to touch them in an unpleasant or confusing way.
2. Sex is a skill which is learned. People expect miracles when they make love for the first time, but what is necessary is time, experience and patience to develop the skill of giving and receiving pleasure.
3. Sex is most beautiful when both persons are not only physically, but also emotionally mature.
4. There are important differences in physiological reactions of men and women and it is good to be aware of them in order to avoid misunderstandings.
5. Anxiety appearing first time or with the new partner can create problems for both partners. Patience and understanding are crucial.
6. Mature love and attachment make sexual experience more pleasurable. Trusting the partner and being able to be ourselves with him/her are of utmost importance.
Tips for parents
1. Explore your own attitudes – studies show that children who can talk about these issues with their parents are less prone to risk behaviours. If you do not feel comfortable talking to your child, admit it, but stress that s/he can ask you if s/he has any questions.
2. Start talking about these things early – children need cautions and gradual access to information about sexuality, appropriate to their age. E.g. when you teach body parts to a young child, do not skip the sex organs.
3. Take initiative – do not only wait for your child to ask questions, but spontaneously use some events, e.g. when you see a pregnant woman, talk about how the baby got into her belly.
4. Give clear age appropriate information – teens need information about biological development, but they also need to understand that sexuality includes mutual trust, respect and responsibility between partners. The more we stress the importance of feelings, probably the more easily, in their own due time, they will make decisions about their sexuality and be the more resistant to peer pressure.
5. Prepare them for developmental changes – children can be scared and confused because of sudden changes in their body. To prevent anxiety, talk not only about the ongoing but also about future changes.
6. Reveal your own beliefs about love and sexuality – although children do not have to acquire your beliefs, they will be aware of them while trying to reveal how they feel and how they want to behave.
7. Many parents find it embarrassing to talk with the opposite sex child. Although it is understandable, it is also important not to totally give up. E.g. if you are a single parent with the opposite sex child, you can seek help in the available literature, ask your family physician for help, or recruit some close opposite sex relative whom you trust.
8. Relax – do not worry if you do not know all the answers to questions your child asks. How you react is more important than how much you know. If you can maintain an atmosphere where no topic is forbidden, you are a very successful parent.