Valentine's Day is less than a month away, and I've got some real inside info on what's going on in the teenage world. Each year, I spend time working with teenagers around the world, and the best laboratory I've found is the school lunchroom.
When I go teach at a school, I always ask if it's OK for me to just have a table to talk to students about what's going on in the hallways of the high school, and for the most part, administrators are open to the idea. I try to frame the conversation for them in a way they can most benefit from the research I'm doing.
In May of 2011, I released a book called An Expose on Teen Sex and Dating: What's Really Going on and How to Talk About It.
This book was actually a two-year research project with thousands of high school students and university students who were basically asked a few questions.
1.) Why do we date?
If you've followed the current conversation on millennial teenage behavior, you've probably heard about "hookup culture." The idea of dinner and a movie are long gone and dating has taken a very different meaning. Movies like Friends With Benefits highlight behavior centered on physical relationships while trying to navigate emotional connection.
The New York Times just published an article called "The End of Courtship" with a telling story of students who are 'dating' via text and facebook. My point is, the culture has changed, and it bears noting as parents are trying to teach kids how to have relationships during high school and college.
2.) Who do we date?
When I sit with a group of students, I always have the boys outline their 'dream date.' I usually have a white board or a piece of paper to make sure I write down all the entries as the ladies watch on standbye. It's amazing!!
She's Got To Be HOT!
I like a HOT girl!
I like a girl who looks AWESOME!
And it goes on.. and on.
When the girls answer, the list is similar but changes just a bit.
I like to see if his last name will match my first name.
Is he tall enough?
I look at his eyes.
I want to make sure his teeth are all there.
I want to know what car he drives
And it goes on... and on.
The point is, there are certain traits our kids are looking for in a 'date' and it's amazing how it matches the cultural agendas you can watch in television or the movies. Each school is different, but the answers are relatively the same.
3.) How do you date?
And this is where the real part of the conversation begins.
One student told me how the boys at her school text a girl to ask her to a dance. They arrange a 'hookup' meeting to see if they are compatible. If it goes well, he asks her to the dance. f she doesn't kiss well, or comes across as prudish, he texts the next girl until he finds a girl who will hookup willingly.
Another student told me they have 'a thing' category which basically means they get together every day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.. .they engage in a physical relationship and then they go to school the next day as if nothing ever happened. It's almost like they played a sporting game the night before, since they don't acknowledge the consequences of sharing sexual experiences.
But there are a few students who are interested in finding someone who really cares about them. More often than not, the girls bring this value to the table, but in reality, the boys are all looking for someone who they can be REAL with. So we start talking about how you can develop a relationship without using casual "hookups" as a means to the end.
4.) Who do you want to marry?
And this is where the conversation goes silent.
Marriage, for a teenager, seems so far away. They don't want to think of the responsibility marriage brings, even though many are only a decade away from the conversation.
I help our students see how decisions they make now will effect their future potential relationships and how to navigate problems they set up for themselves in the future. If you track the marriage trends of 30-somethings, you'll see the current tide shifting from a culture who embraces marriage as a relationship staple to a civic tool to protect assets. Many students have told me, "Why would I want to get married? It didn't work for my Mom and Dad, and I don't want to have to go through that at all."
No matter what your view of dating is at the high school and university level, there seems to be a void in people willing to help mentor and coach our students through a turbulent time. Hormones are raging, the media is coaching, and relationships falling apart at every turn; they really don't have a good foundation to learn what it means to truly love and be loved by someone else.
As Valentine's Day approaches, it might be a good time to begin helping your child understand the success stories you've had in your own relationships, and help them see the failures you've experienced also. Nothing replaces a parent sitting down with their kids and sharing their values.