Teens & Dating

Adults! If you are feeling that the world is tough and life's stressful, imagine how it feels to a teenager who is barely an adult but no longer a child. The pressure on them to figure out difficult issues is relentless.

I remember when keeping grades up, picking a college, and finding a decent job were just normal obligations and relatively easy to achieve. Now, one college could receive 1,000's of applications for a few hundred openings. And this is true for corporations, too. My sister was one of 950 people who applied to a company which had 11 openings.

The pressure for children to achieve often begins in pre-school. I heard of a mother of a 7 year old who traveled to Greece with her husband and the little girl and she spent 4 hours daily in the hotel room going over the 2nd grader's lessons so she wouldn't fall behind. Wouldn't experiencing another culture been education enough?

Although this is an extreme example, the pressure is on kids to excel and by the teen years, it can take its toll. I was on staff at an eating disorder clinic for 5 years and teens were our primary clients.

So what does this have to do with teens and dating? Plenty. I've been in private practice for over 23 years, and teens are consistently stressed and confused. Besides the educational system breathing down their necks(3-4hours of homework daily), there is the media giving them messages to grow up quickly, be thin, be sexy, be an individual and also part of an 'in' crowd. How is it possible to sort through and balance all of this information? I have had teens tell me that they need to 'put out' by the 4th date or guys lose interest. (Although I was recently told by a teen that several of her friends had decided they would not have sex until college—good for them!) Teens need affirmation, and they may not be getting enough from parents and authority figures.

What can you do to help alleviate confusion?

Teach your teens clear boundaries and help them build a solid framework from which to have a sense of self.

In my book "A Cure for the Common Life: The Cardinal Rules of Self-Esteem" I say that a healthy, vibrant, REAL self-esteem embodies these five cornerstones: Self-Love, Self-Discipline, Self-Reliance, Self-Control and the ability to Self-Correct. Take time to dialogue with your teens about what these mean to them. Help them to build an inner voice that goes beyond what 'feels good' and 'what feels bad' and help them see the bigger picture.

Example: If a 16 year old girl is confronted with just finding out that her steady boyfriend went out with one of her best girlfriends, she may have an angry outburst or get depressed and go to her room. These would be normal reactions as she'd just been betrayed twice. But instead of remaining in a stuck emotion of anger or hurt for a long time (I've seen this type of pain go on for years, sometimes decades), when she brings up the five cornerstones, she can, over time, realize that his love and her best friend's love is not as important as her own.(self-love) She can have the courage to pick herself up and continue with her daily life.(self-discipline) She an feel that she can trust herself enough to make a better choice next time and that they were really not her friends and she deserves better.(self-reliance) She can choose to not act out inappropriately, like starting a fight with the girl or taking out her anger by yelling at her younger sister or brother for no reason.(self-control) And she can look inside herself and realize that SHE has value and that she can choose how she is going to react to people that disappoint her.(self-correct)

I have received letters and emails from moms and teens telling me how these cornerstones and the ten rules of self-esteem listed in my book have helped teens think things through with more maturity. What teens need to know is that although it feels like they have no control, they actually do have personal control on how they live their lives. And Rule number one in my book is "Don't hang around people who make you feel bad about yourself".

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