By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Valentine's Day. It's a holiday that can bring much fun and joy, and romance. Although, if you have a son or daughter in that pre-teen through teenage segment of life, Valentine's Day can be an entirely different experience. The angst, the drama, the nonchalance, the pretending they don't care, but they really do, and then the whole boy/girl crazy element. It can be tricky to navigate—for them and us as parents.
I remember, as a teenager, one of my boy-crazy friends around Valentine's Day. It was quite a drawn-out process. Determining whether to give Jack a card, and Joe, and maybe John too. Or no. No. Don't give out any Valentine's. Oh, wait. What if all of them get a Valentine's and all of them reciprocate the emotion? Then what? Dating three people at once is a no. And did you know that Candace likes Jack too? She knows that Jack has been at the top of the list forever! How she could even think to budge in a send him a card too?
Sound familiar? Only it's worse nowadays. Cards have, in many ways, flown out the window and have been exchanged for texts or Snaps. It's gotten more serious too. It's not as innocent as it once was. Mean girls from the nineties have become vindictive with social media's onset. Something about technology tends to keep kids one step removed from the consequences, and therefore, Valentine's Day can become either just another day in the life of the teen romance or it can become a day of seriously broken hearts and wounded self-esteem.
So how do you help your child navigate Valentine's Day when they're crazy about someone of the opposite sex? Or even if they're not, but they're somehow swept up in the stigma that is pre-teen and teenage romance?
Here are some thoughts to try:
1. Encourage them to focus on themselves.
Okay, that sounds downright self-centered, but that's not what we're going for here. Let's face it, the majority of relationships under the age of eighteen aren't set up for long-term success. Are there exceptions to the rule? Absolutely. But let's go with the majority rules here and make the devil's advocate argument that the relationship your kid is seeking, even the momentary romantic high from a Valentine's Day interlude, is temporary.
What are the consequences of getting swept up in the stereotypical Valentine's Day rush? Are there consequences? Well sure. Potential embarrassment, potential broken hearts, potential broken friendships, and even sometimes harmless fun with small consequences no one notices, and yet, deep in your kid's psyche, some wounding occurs when their "interest" gives a blasé response to the greeting or ignores it completely.
Valentine's Day is a great time for your kid to learn to focus on their own emotional health. Encourage your child to step back and consider what they hope to gain from a dramatically inspired Valentine's Day. What's the goal? Instead, help them focus on what will make them healthier overall. Do they have that friend that just means the world to them and is a best friend? Let them know it with a platonic but meaningful greeting. Help your child refocus on growing their self-confidence in their own person, growing closer to the values of your faith, and setting boundaries for their heart health so that in the future and in serious relationships, they avoid the petty drama and the goofy, nonsensical immaturity and can seek out depth and meaningful relationships.
2. Teach them friendship over fun.
Okay, so let's be blunt. Valentine's Day "romance" as a kid is mostly just fun. It's a rush. A rush of romantic adrenalin, the "does he/she like me" angst, and the silly interactions with the besties as their finger hovers over the send button on that Snap. But if we're going to take this more seriously, maybe your kid is really on to something. Perhaps the person they've got their eye on is a quality kid themselves, and being silly is detrimental to what could potentially be a meaningful friendship.
You can help your kids navigate Valentine's Day drama by giving them options to help them avoid the traps of immature silliness. Offer to have a Valentine's Day party for them at your place. They can invite their "crush," along with other friends. You can encourage your kid/teen to have healthy interaction via games, movies, popcorn, and athletics instead of covert Snaps that obliterate real interaction anyway and texts that can be saved to be used against them later.
Friendship is a much stronger end goal. Point in case, I had a crush when I was thirteen, and instead of sending them a Valentine, my Mom encouraged me to just hang out with a bunch of friends that Valentine's Day and do fun stuff. I invited my crush. We had a blast—we got to know each other—we're still friends to this day. (I no longer have a crush on him also—just to clarify).
3. Keep them safe.
Today's day and age have not been friendly to innocent middle-school and high-school crushing. My nine-year-old nephew even has a "girlfriend," and that's getting ridiculous, in my opinion. The pressure to buy his eight-year-old girlfriend roses? Unreal. And yet, the eight-year-old little girls are mimicking what is plastered all over social media, reels, TV, and movies. It's their goal because it's something big to achieve—a boyfriend/girlfriend. In fact, many adults still encourage it just because it's "cute." It is cute until your eight-year-old daughter comes home brokenhearted because the boy who sits across the room in class gave the other girl a Valentine and not her—then had the gall to ask the other little girl "out," and now they're "dating" over peanut butter sandwiches in the lunch room.
No. I dare to say it. No. Keep your kids' hearts safe this Valentine's Day. Be cautious of encouraging relationships, even through teasing. Kids take that stuff to heart, whether you realize it or not. And if you know their crush's name and use it to tease and poke fun, it can encourage or hurt the child. Why? What does your child—even your teenager—gain from heartbreak? Are relationships necessary to navigate through so they can one day find a healthy one? Sure! Yes. But at 9? At 12? At 15?
Keep in mind your child is still developing physically, mentally, and emotionally. Adult issues should stay adult issues, but today's culture has made Valentine's Day not just about candy hearts and teddy bears but about sexualized innuendos and committed relationships. Imagine my chagrin when my eleven-year-old niece told me she broke up with her boyfriend because he "cheated" on her. Doubtful it was physical cheating, but still. Why should my 11-year-old niece need to even know what cheating is, let alone deal with it at her age?
Keep your kids safe by teaching them to value themselves. To value their worth. To respect the person God has created them to be. Teach them the value of friendship, loyalty, faithfulness, and camaraderie so that they can experience friendship which is the foundation of a future healthy relationship.
Does this seem like a lot for a Valentine's Day post? Yeah. But again, kid's culture today has made Valentine's Day far less innocent, and the stakes are a lot higher. In short, be aware. Know your kid. If they're crazy for boys or girls, help them temper that interest into healthy avenues and to guard their hearts and, frankly, their reputations.
Valentine's Day comes with teeth these days. It's time to put some armor on and be on the offense.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studios
Jaime Jo Wright is an ECPA and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. Her novel “The House on Foster Hill” won the prestigious Christy Award and she continues to publish Gothic thrillers for the inspirational market. Jaime Jo resides in the woods of Wisconsin, lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com and at her podcast madlitmusings.com where she discusses the deeper issues of story and faith with fellow authors.