Teen dating problems: resisting the pressures of young love

  • Age: 11-16 yrs
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Teen dating problems: resisting the pressures of young love

Girls are under enormous pressure to start dating, seeing it as a way to validate their self-worth. They may fear that choosing to wait may mean not fitting in, so how can you support your daughter in this brave decision?

“If a girl doesn’t have a strong sense of self, she may seek acceptance through dating,” says therapist and researcher Dr. Carol Langlois. “This, in fact, has a negative effect on her self-esteem. A relationship is an extension of who you are... it doesn’t define you.”

It is important that we encourage and praise girls for waiting to date. When a girl waits longer before starting to date, she can often have more time to get to know herself and put herself first. And by building her self-esteem and body confidence before she enters the arena of teen dating issues, she is more likely to be a stronger partner when she does decide to date. However, bucking peer and media pressure to start dating young is a brave choice for any girl, and requires support and understanding from those who love her.

Why young girls are eager to date

Movies, music and television can make young girls think that being in a relationship will make them “more desirable” or ‘more mature.” Seeing images of couples in movies or hearing songs about love can make a girl yearn for a romantic relationship of her own.

Another factor is peer pressure. Like many other decisions we make in adolescence (what we wear, what we look like, whom we hang out with), what others think is often an important motivator. Young girls may have friends who are dating or interested in dating, and it can feel isolating or may make her feel unattractive if she is the only girl in her group who isn’t actively pursuing a relationship. Many times, young girls enter a relationship or pretend to be interested in finding a significant other because they do not want to be the odd one out.

Teenage dating problems

Dating young can have several negative effects on a girl’s life. When a young girl begins to date, she can start channelling all her energy and focus into her significant other, leaving her friends and family to the side. Not only can the people who care about her lose out on spending time with her, but she may also be missing out on the broad range of experiences that can help her become a stronger, more intelligent young woman.

Teenage dating can also lead to a situation of codependency. If a young girl has not yet discovered her own identity and what makes her shine, she can run the risk of becoming emotionally dependent on her partner, tailoring how she looks and what she’s interested in to suit them and potentially damaging her self-worth and body confidence.

The up side to waiting

Adolescence is a great time for self-discovery. Deciding to wait longer to date is one way a girl can give herself the time and space to reflect on the type of person she wants to become. This may include finding her own interests, developing her own look, building up a strong support network and ultimately, letting her true self shine.

Praise your daughter on her qualities rather than how she looks

Annie Fox, parenting expert and author of Teaching Kids to Be Good People, says: “When parents praise their daughter for her good character traits, her choices and her accomplishments, they help her develop self-confidence and self-esteem. She’ll internalize a message of personal power: ‘I am proud of myself because I’m a girl who can do many things well.’ But if our comments are focused on our daughter’s looks, we reinforce the message that her value, as a person, is judged by how pretty, thin, sexy or popular she is. Not what we want to teach our girls!”

Remember to also be specific with the praise you offer. When we use generic phrases like “good girl,” we are often subliminally teaching our children to conform, do well and please. It’s possible they may then go on to want to please others by having the perfect relationship, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend and become so tied up in being a good girl that they forget to be a real girl.

Author: Erika Ponce, student of psychology and writer of gender equality

Action checklist:
A young girl’s perspective on teen dating issues

Teens seem to be growing up too fast at times, but they are also wiser than we may give them credit for. One 15-year-old girl gave me her perspective on why it is that teens begin dating.

“A lot of the time girls look for a relationship to feel cosy and safe and ‘beautiful enough’ to have a boyfriend. Girls feel like all the popular girls have a boyfriend and they don’t, so they are not smart or pretty enough. I see girls always talking about boys and that’s their main focus when it shouldn’t be. They should be focusing on themselves, their schoolwork and their character.”

When asked what it looks like for a girl to have strong self-worth, she defined it as this: “She knows her true worth is not based on what the world expects of her. She will stand strong to what she believes and asks for help when she feels weak, because she is not afraid to look weak but also not afraid to look strong. She knows she can’t be perfect.”

What next: action steps to help boost your daughter’s self-worth

  • Give positive examples of women in your own and your daughter’s life that have high self-esteem and are good role models.
  • Be a strong role model for your daughter. Show that you are not dependent on other people to give you self-worth. For example, highlight times when you have followed your own mind rather than doing what everyone else was doing.
  • When watching a show or movie together, point out which characters display positive self-worth and which ones do not and why.
  • Let her know that gender roles and relationships in the media are not always realistic and are often distorted. Share our article “Confessions of a reality TV fixer: how real is reality TV?” with her.
  • Discuss with her that just because her friends are dating, it does not mean that she has to as well. Everyone’s journey is different, and it is important that she takes this time to discover herself and what makes her unique.
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