The Teen Social Scene
Late adolescence is the time when dating becomes more common and partying becomes the socially grown-up thing to do.
In general, dating at first can create discomfort. Most teenagers feel awkward, anxious, even embarrassed about how to act and what to say. Going out with a group is usually more comfortable, and less pressured, than going out with a single person. In addition, casual dating involves less pressure than serious dating. Casual dating tends to focus on fun without loss of freedom from significant involvement. Serious dating tends to focus on enjoying a single relationship and coming to know another person deeply and well.
When serious dating becomes exclusive dating, it can tie a teenager down and may be conducted at the expense of social time with other friends. Now the serious couple must manage tensions around mixing togetherness and separateness, and if infatuation develops, they must also manage tensions from possessiveness and jealousy. Loss of social freedom, distrust of commitment, and fear of betrayal can create discomfort when teenagers fall in love. For teens, being in love usually means being unhappy a lot of the time.
In general, parents want to encourage low-pressure socializing — group and casual dating, keeping sufficient social freedom to have recreation time for other friends. If your teen gets seriously attached to someone, however, make sure you get to know your teenager's girlfriend or boyfriend. That will maximize your chance to influence the conduct of that relationship. If you oppose the relationship on principle that they are “too young” to be serious, you risk driving them even closer together in response to your opposition.
Tell your teenager, “How you treat other people is one measure of how you treat yourself. If you mistreat others, then you are treating yourself as someone who treats people badly. If you are respectful of other people, then you are treating yourself as someone who treats people well.”
On whatever level it occurs, however, you need to give your teenager your expectations for keeping dating respectful. Here are four questions for you to ask your teenager about the relationship — he or she should be able to answer yes to all of these to keep it respectful.
“Do you like how you treat yourself in the relationship?” For example, he may like the freedom he gives himself to speak up, to say what he wants to say, to be honestly and authentically himself without any need for pretense.
“Do you like how you treat the other person in the relationship?” For example, she is open to hearing what the other person has to say, she's honest in response, and she can listen when the two disagree without criticizing or correcting the other person's point of view.
“Do you like how you are treated in the relationship?” For example, he may like how in conflict with the other person, she never threatens or demeans him, and he appreciates never feeling pressured to do anything he doesn't want.
“Does the other person like how you treat him or her in the relationship?” For example, the other person may like how she is willing to listen, to compromise on decisions, and doesn't always have to get her way.
Parties can be a problem for teenagers (and many adults) because teens lack the social confidence and communication skills to meet and greet and chat with people they may or may not know. That's where the “get-to-know-you drug” — alcohol — comes in, providing the liquid courage to loosen up and feel less self-conscious about how one looks and what one says. Smoking cigarettes gives nervous hands something to do. Partying for the sake of partying can be very hard for many teenagers (and many adults) to do without the support of substances, particularly alcohol and cigarettes.
Leave a social teenager alone in charge of your home or apartment when you're away overnight and you may risk hosting an “empty house party.” All it takes is having a few friends over, others arriving uninvited, and soon the “fun” grows into trouble and out of your teenager's control.
Attending a social get-together built around an activity or an event reduces the need for substance use. Now there is a planned focus for what everyone is there to do in order to have fun. Having social activities that have a purpose reduces social discomfort because it makes clear how everyone is to act.
When you are hosting a party for your teenager, have plenty of activities available (and snacks for them to eat), in addition to announcing that it must be a substance-free occasion. This also means controlling the guest list, keeping a discreet but observable presence, and not allowing any crashers. If you want to know how to design a substance-free social get-together for teenagers, check with youth leaders at area churches. They do it successfully all the time.