Monday 26 September 2016

Help! My teenager is in love with a girl he met online

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers advice to concerned parents in his weekly column.

Published 12/08/2014 | 02:30

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Photo: Thinkstock. (Picture posed)

We have recently become aware that our 17-year-old son has struck up a very intense online relationship with a 16-year-old girl in England.

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This, apparently, has been going on since last January. They are totally besotted with each other. He is going into sixth year and I feel this relationship is going to totally unsettle him with his Leaving Cert coming up. I have no problem with him having a girlfriend, but we are scared the unknown and of what lies ahead of us. He asked could he go over to England to visit her, as her parents are okay with this, but we said there's no way he's going over to complete strangers. We want him to be happy, but this is such an important year for him and we feel this is the last thing he needs. What should we do?

 

David Coleman replies: When it comes to friends, the one thing we do know is that we can't pick the friends that our teenage children make. Indeed, the more we try to meddle, the more often we can alienate ourselves from our sons and daughters.

The good news is that you, at least, are aware of the relationship that your son is in. While it may be an online relationship, so far, it is probably no less intense and meaningful than any other boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.

The most important thing that you need to do is to keep the lines of communication, between you and your son, open. If he thinks that you are disapproving, or critical, of him or his relationship then he is likely to just withdraw and tell you nothing.

In those circumstances, you could find that he makes bad choices, such as heading off to England alone without your knowledge or permission.

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You may not agree with the manner in which he has come to know this girl, or the intensity and commitment that he has already put into the relationship. But, actually, he is at an age when he can, and will, make many choices independently of you.

None of us like to think of our children making bad choices, or getting harmed in any way. You may anticipate that this relationship will be emotionally and risky, and even dangerous for him. You may even worry about physical danger if he goes to meet her.

But, there are also times when we need to let our teenagers make their own choices and learn from the experiences. In these circumstances we may need to support them in the choices they make, even if we have our reservations.

So, that is how I think you need to approach this relationship that your son has established.

Talk with him about the real worries you have. Talk about your concern that an intense relationship will be a distraction for him. Talk about the difficulties of maintaining relationships over long distance. Talk about your fears that he will get hurt.

Keep reminding him of the importance of his Leaving Cert. Remind him that if this girl really cares about him she too should want the best for him and should support, not distract, him in his studies.

But in those conversations you are not telling him not to pursue the relationship. Nor are you trying to dissuade him from his beliefs. Your job is, indeed, to provide some rationality, but only when you can accept that he still may ignore it.

For sure your son may not be thinking clearly about this girl. How many of us have been equally caught up in the total absorption of our first serious relationship? However, he is more likely to hear your opinions when they are delivered calmly and compassionately.

Perhaps some of your own fears might be alleviated if you get to know this girl and her family. Or, if you do get to know them, you may find other, tangible, reasons why your fears may be justified.

Either way, the end of the summer, before school, might be a good time to actually go over to England with him. Negotiate the joint trip on the basis that until you meet and get to know her and her family you will find it hard to support him.

This online relationship with this girl may be what is making him happy. You say you want him to be happy and so supporting him, rather than arguing with him, may be the way for you to help him remain happy and focused.

 

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