I’ve been away for a bit. So, let’s get to it with the questions.
Are elementary school children too young to be sending Valentine’s Day cards to each other?
This practice is usually both harmless and fun for kids. The only “rule” I might suggest is that if a teacher is going to allow V-Day cards/notes to be shared, I’d recommend that all kids be required to write a card/note for every kid in the classroom. This guideline is designed to avoid turning an otherwise fun event into a public display of a social pecking order. (Despite what the CEOs of greeting card companies might suggest, I also think the world would keep spinning if a teacher decided to not recognize V-day in his or her classroom.)
My teen wants to go out on a date on Valentine’s Day, but it’s a school night. What should I do?
I realize how intense a teen might lobby for such permission. Does this sound familiar: ”the choices for you, mom/dad, are to allow me to do this or to cast me into an abyss.” But, then again, so many of our teenager’s requests are couched in this way (says a man who lives with 2.0 of them, and will soon live with 3.0 of them).
The dramatic (for your teen) context not withstanding, I could envision scenarios where it would okay to allow this and others where it would not be. The more the following are true, the more I’d be inclined to allow it. The more the following are not true, the more I’d be inclined to say “no.”
√ Your teen is putting forth good effort in his or her academics and is judged to be a good citizen by teachers.
√ You are comfortable with the circumstances of the date (e.g., where they are going, who they will be with and that they will sober, celibate and safe—see this blog entry for more on the latter).
√ The date will not interfere with your teen getting a good night’s sleep (see this blog entry for sleep guidelines).
My kid feels bad because s/he doesn’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend. What can I say?
I’m noticing that lots of teens, who do not have an official beau, are fine with that. But, if your teen is in distress about such, one of the things that can help is to share your own experiences of failure and pain when it comes to romance, especially if you can weave comedy into your stories (see this blog entry for a longer discussion on this).
Listen closely, though. Sometimes this discussion isn’t just about your teen not having a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Sometimes this discussion reflects a deeper problem with your teen’s self-esteem. Despite your best efforts, your teen may have serious doubts about his or her inherent value, not only as a romantic partner, but in general. While the first two chapters of my parenting book reviews specific strategies for promoting and enhancing a kid’s self esteem, if a teen feels this way I would err on the side of caution and seek out an evaluation from a good child mental health professional. (For a list of providers near you click here.)
My teen wants to spend a lot of money on a Valentine’s Day present. What should I allow?
This is another complicated question that can be answered in different ways depending upon your unique situation. While I will probably write a future post elaborating on issues regarding training youth about money, here are some guidelines:
√ Does the amount of money involved, if spent on the gift, have the potential to be toxic? That is, does it significantly compromise some other important agenda (e.g., saving for a summer experience) or might it cause a deeper, and otherwise avoidable, sense of betrayal in the face of a subsequent break up?
√ Is the money involved the teen’s? That is money that s/he earned?
√ Is there a standing agreement between you and your teen regarding what monies s/he can spend as s/he wishes? It is highly advisable to form such agreements outside of such specific requests (i.e., in the context of a specific request most teen’s will regress and become difficult to reason with). Two factors to consider: what percentage is to be saved, either for college or otherwise? What percentage, if any, is to be given to charity?
Also remember, it is generally an insufficient reason to forbid a teen to do something if the only reason for forbidding it is that it makes you feel uncomfortable. One of our jobs as parents is to allow our teens to do things they want to do as long as such isn’t physically or psychologically harmful and doesn’t unduly tax our resources (i.e., time and money). For an expanded discussion on this click here.
My teen is interested in the same sex. How should I deal with that?
I would treat this no differently than you would if your teen was interested in the opposite sex. That is, I would allow no more, or no less, than would be healthy if your teen’s interests were heterosexual. Also, keep in mind that sexual interests fall along a complex continuum and that your teen’s interests can change over time. However, one of the things that can impair or unduly complicate this development is if a parent shames a teen’s emerging interests.
The one proviso I would offer, however, is that you discuss with your teen the safety of public displays of being a same-sex couple. There are circumstances where this can be dangerous, either in terms of psychological or physical consequences. A dispassionate case-by-case analysis of this danger can increase the odds that your teen will engage a path that is adaptive.
Please also keep in mind that I am answering this question as a psychologist whose only agenda is your teen’s mental health. In doing so I appreciate that you may have other agenda, such as adhering to the tenets of a religion you subscribe to. Should my counsel conflict with the latter, I recommend you meet with a qualified mental health professional to engage a pro-con analysis that considers all relevant factors (collateral counseling with a wise clergy person may also be indicated).
Here’s an extra tip thrown in for free: guys: always do something for your partner on V-Day, even if–and maybe even especially if–you’ve been told to not bother. Moreover, do so without an expectation of a response (e.g., gratitude, sex). This may be true for gals too, but sometimes it isn’t. But, for guys, it’s pretty much always true 😉