By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Valentine's Day comes with a lot of stereotyping as well as expectations. As adults, we tend to embrace, ignore, or avoid it. But as teenagers? There is a whole other set of pressures and impacts when considering the holiday filled with Cupid, hearts, and sweet nothings.
Of course, there are the teenagers who could care less about the day. But we're chatting about the ones who take Valentine's Day seriously. Probably more seriously than a teenager really should. When you consider the impacts of Valentine's Day falling below expectations and then transfer those impacts onto impressionable younger versions of ourselves, you realize how damaging this holiday could potentially be.
First, we need to consider how teenagers view Valentine's Day. It's typically not through the lenses of having a significant other to share your life with. Instead, it's having a boyfriend/girlfriend to fulfill a crush, an interest, and very possibly, to extricate themselves out of the category of the dateless. They probably don't see it as such, but having a Valentine is important in the dating popularity status competition that no one talks about but runs thick below the surface.
What happens if you're a teenager without a Valentine? Maybe nothing if you're lucky and part of a group where no one cares. But many will be mocked for not having a significant other, and it will transpose itself onto their self-esteem and become another excuse for others to criticize and taunt. Or, teasing aside, many may measure their self-worth on their relationship status, and spending Valentine's Day as a single teenager lands them in the camp of low self-esteem. Then, there's the other side of the coin, that being a teenager with a Valentine. Along with that comes a different set of pressures, from as little as what is an appropriate Valentine's Day gift to how much physical interaction will prove teenage devotion to be true?
So how do we teach our teens a healthy perspective of a rather commercialized, romanticized, and sexualized holiday? It's essential to establish some very important, albeit maybe unpopular, truths about the day itself with your teenager.
1. Valentine's Day isn't proof of love.
It's probably good to help your teen stop for a moment and consider what Valentine's Day is all about and what it's not meant to be. Even as adults, we will scorn the holiday if we are single or alone because we feel that not having a significant other somehow reflects our inner and outer appeal. As teenagers still forming their self-confidence, the rejection associated with spending Valentine's Day alone can be extremely impacting. Add to that, other teens around may glory in pointing it out.
And that doesn't even calculate in the hype of teenagers in relationships who are being influenced to exaggerate teenage puppy love into the level of glamorized television romances and relationships.
Whether your teenager is or is not in a relationship, it's important to lay the foundation with them that Valentine's Day and the recognition of the day are not proof of love. Period. If healthy relationships and true, deep, unconditional love depend on February 14th and chocolate candy hearts, we have deeper issues to address. It will be vital for you, as the parent, to model a healthy definition of the holiday. This may also mean that celebrating it with your significant other is demonstrated in a wholesome way, free of the vocalized angst and irritation if your significant other doesn't fulfill your own heightened expectations of the day.
2. Valentine's Day is over-hyped.
Don't shoot the messenger, but let's be honest. Valentine's Day carries far more weight in relationships or lack thereof than it should. Retailers have grown it into a massive event for the sake of sales, romantics have turned it into the champion of holidays, and somehow obligatory "I love you's" are translated into treasured romance.
Teaching your teenager that while Valentine's Day can be special, it's also important to help them put it into perspective. Not having a Valentine isn't a demotion of their value in a potential relationship. Having a Valentine isn't important enough to compromise oneself, values, or morals.
So what is a healthy way for our teenagers to celebrate this romantic holiday meant for lovers? How do we define it so that they can have fun with it but also remain in a healthy frame of mind?
Offer your teenagers a safe place to celebrate.
This may mean sacrificing your own Valentine's Day dinner, but if your teenager has a Valentine, help them celebrate by providing a safe haven for them to hang out, watch a movie, play a game, or have a date night with some roses and chocolate, without the big hype of one-on-one romance and the tensions (good and bad) that can bring with it.
If your teenager doesn't have a Valentine, offer for them to invite friends of like minds over for just a fun night. Serve up chocolate hearts for the free of heart, put in an action flick movie, or play a rousing game of Pie-in-the-Face. Celebrate friendship!
Stress the importance of friendship over romance.
A percentage of high-school romances will survive and become long-term relationships that graduate into marriage. But, in reality, most teenage romances will be short-lived. Unfortunately, this often means good friendships also come to a screeching halt with the awkwardness of break-ups.
So, while you're helping to provide a safe and fun atmosphere for your teenagers during Valentine's Day, also reiterate the importance of friendship over romance. There will be a time and a place for romance someday, but talking with them about their best friend and protecting that friendship will go a long way to preserving something far more important than a Valentine's Day experience.
Will they listen to your wisdom? Maybe not. But your words as a parent will weigh in on their choices as they move forward, and again, you're helping set the foundation for how they view romance. And true romance begins with the roots of strong friendships. Without that, Valentine's Day will be a bust for pretty much anyone.
Be willing to listen to your teenager.
Now is not the time to talk over your teenager. If they're in a relationship and all about a romantic Valentine's Day, listening to your teen will be as crucial as stressing your own convictions about love and romance in high school. As much as it may pain you, you need to recognize their feelings. Invalidating them with admonitions of "you're too young," "Valentine's Day isn't for kids," and so forth may only ruin the day for all of you.
Listen to their love-struck emotions. Or, if they're like many teens, respect that they aren't going to share much of anything with you. But give them the opportunity to! Ask them what their plans are for the day, what they hope to get out of it, how they're feeling about it, and so on.
Be conscientious if your teenager is alone on Valentine's Day. Check-in with them to ensure they're not in silent heartbreak or feeling less-than. Dads, this may be the opportunity to take your daughter out for Valentine's Day dinner. Sure, she may think it's weird at first, but remember, her standards for her future significant other will be set by you.
In reality, Valentine's Day, teenage relationships, and self-esteem often intertwine to become a perplexing maze for parents to navigate. There isn't necessarily one right way to help your teen, but the key is to help your teen. Removing yourself from their relationship experiences around a holiday where every other outlet will be setting their expectations will not help your teenager one bit. They need parental guidance, even if they resist it.
And in the end, if you all wind out upon a couch eating candy hearts and watching rom-coms, the worst that will happen is you'll make a warm memory together. And isn't that really what a healthy Valentine's Day is all about?
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.