Among all my endeavors as a parent of teenagers, understanding their affairs of the heart has been the most baffling. Mostly, my approach has been, "Hands off."
New research suggests I might do better by meddling a bit.
Long dismissed by researchers as trivial and fleeting, teen romance is emerging as a powerful factor in kids' development—one in which parents have a major role to play, new studies show. The romantic ties kids form between middle school and college are important markers of progress toward adulthood; their choice of partners as early as middle school actually shapes their development to a surprising degree.
And while parents' dating advice may seem about as welcomed by teens as the swine flu, the research suggests the opposite—that young people not only value parental input, but tend to have healthier relationships when they receive parental advice.
The studies serve as bedrock for parents in an era of dizzying changes in youthful romance. Many adults see little that is familiar in today's teen dating relationships, which may seem to live and die entirely on Facebook, or through texting, sexting or—to parents' dismay—casual "hookups," or brief sexual liaisons.
"It is an area where parents aren't quite sure what to do," says Stephanie Madsen, an associate professor of psychology at McDaniel College, Westminster, Md. Now, emerging research "can offer some solid information on what is helpful, and what's not."