One Mom’s Lessons on Teen Dating


It’s been almost a decade since my first-born came home and announced she’d be going to the middle school dance, my baptism into the strange “new” world of dating. Now that I’ve crossed almost all the way over (she’s 21 now, the youngest is 19, and they tell me very little about their college romances) I wish I could skip back in time and give myself some of the good advice I came across while reporting Young Love. “Shut up, Sarah,” I’d say. “Talk less. Listen more.”

But back when my kids were entering middle school, I was still fooling myself that my job was to teach them things. How to find what X equals, write a thank you note and even find lessons in the awkward rituals of very young love: What does it mean if he calls and texts? Texts but doesn’t call? Or doesn’t text at all? I kidded myself that I actually played a role in shaping them, spouting well-researched lectures about sex and responsibility and kindness and respect.

In the bumpy teen years that followed, I’ve learned I was wrong. In hindsight, I was pure spectator. Parents don’t shape kids; they simply help them unfold. My kids were learning the hard lessons about hormones and romance in school cafeterias, on Facebook and Skype, and at friends’ houses, giving me just the occasional glimpse into what was happening. The heart of a teen—and yes, even a tween—is a very private place. If they show you even an inch of what’s there, accept it as a minor miracle. Pull up a chair. Listen, don’t preach.

The hardest thing has been watching them get hurt. Nothing prepares you for the night your child cries about being dumped, dissed or just ignored. I never came up with anything better than the hollow phrase my mother always had for me: “This too shall pass.”

But you know what? It’s not hollow, it’s true. It works for teen heartbreak. And for those of us in the stands, watching our kids grow from “OMG, he’s so CUTE” to real love, real commitments, and real life? Watching it pass is one of the greatest shows on earth.

—Sarah Mahoney