Love in adolescence, a guide for parents

Simon Doyle
Love in adolescence, a guide for parents

Adolescence is perhaps nature's way of preparing parents for the empty nest. Karen savage.

Adolescence is the conjugation of childhood and adulthood. Louise J. Kaplan.

  • Lupita, is 10 years old and says; "I met one of those guys you can't find around the corner".
  • 15-year-old Itzel told her cousin, "having sex is the best thing that can happen to you, if you try it, it catches you".
  • 14-year-old Fernando texted 11-year-old Maria saying that he would make her experience incredible pleasure and that she would be unable to walk the next day..
  • Roberto, at 16, feels completely out of place because almost all his friends have a girlfriend and he doesn't.
  • Juan and María, they are dating, both are 13 years old, they feel that they could not live without each other and they say that they love each other after the first week of relationship.


  • Urges in Teens
  • Essential questions
  • Love, infatuation or attraction?
  • Infatuation
  • Sexual attraction
  • Love
  • Love from the neurosciences
  • Signs that teens have a partner
    • Physical
    • Social
    • Psychological
  • Signs Parents See in Their Teenagers When They Have a Partner
    • Psychological
    • Social
  • Understanding adolescence
    • Physical
    • Psychological
    • Psychosocial
  • What are the consequences of allowing children to have a partner?
    • If we do not allow it, but they decide to have a partner
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Myths
  • What are the limits to allow children to have a partner?
  • Practical advice for parents

Urges in adolescents

Passion, attraction, desire and a whole awakening of impulses move adolescents in the name of falling in love that may one day lead them to experience love. Adolescence is a period of biopsychosocial adjustments that is experienced with the greatest intensity when it comes to leaving childhood behind.

It brings with it enormous physical and emotional variations, transforming the child into an adult. The young person breaks with the safety of the childish, cuts with their childhood behaviors and values ​​and begins to build a new world of their own. To achieve this, the adolescent still needs support: from the family, school and society, since adolescence continues to be a learning phase (Unicef, 2016).

Confusion, illusion, reflection on the changes experienced by the mind and body merge in the crucible of falling in love. The first love, the butterflies in the stomach, the first kiss and an endless number of first experiences come together in the sensory imprint of that experience that will mark for better or for worse their future relationships..

They can have everything, except go unnoticed in our lives, and are mediated by several considerations to face:

  • Feeling loved is a basic human need
  • Falling in love is the beginning of a survival strategy
  • Teen dating is a biological and emotional condition
  • It is a way of relating socially
  • And, many times erroneously, it is believed that dating is an ideal and purely pleasant relationship where EVERYTHING is enjoyable

The period of adolescence and the theme of falling in love as a preamble to reach mature love is also part of the education of our children, as well as others, such as: grief, obligations at home, education, drugs, limits, sexuality and many more that some parents worry about.

Essential questions

What I call essential questions bring together the most frequent doubts, experiences or reflections that arise in the consultation and that are reason for concerns of parents and children on this topic:

  • Do they really love or do they just fall in love or excite?
  • Am I prepared as a parent for this stage of life?
  • What do parents think when children fall in love?
  • What do children think when they fall in love?
  • Can being in love make you: enjoy and suffer?
  • How far do you have to support them when they are in love?
  • What risks do they run?

The closeness or distance in communication with adolescents will largely depend on the familiarity and naturalness with which these issues are dealt with. If someone on the street asks us how much do we earn ?, most likely we will not answer. If communication with our children is distant, and we ask them any embarrassing questions, of course they will not answer or evasive. That is why we need to be informed, parenting goes beyond buying them state-of-the-art technology or allowing them to go out with friends. It is better to guide them as parents! They must be given information to help them demystify the general images of sexuality.

Love, infatuation or attraction?

Three concepts confused by adolescents are deeply related, but they are not the same, although they intervene in the way we see the loved one at different stages of living together as a couple.


Although there are many definitions, I quote the following: Infatuation is an emotional state characterized by joy and the strong attraction of one person to another. This feeling is manifested in individuals in such a way that they feel that they can share all kinds of events in their lives (, 2015).

Some characteristics of falling in love are:

  • A strong desire for intimacy and physical contact (hugs, kisses, caresses including sexual intercourse).
  • Desire for reciprocity in the relationship of infatuation on the part of the couple.
  • Obsessive thoughts about the other person and some uncertainty or fear of being rejected.
  • Inability to focus on activities other than the person of concern.
  • Nervousness in the real or imagined presence of the other person, which is activated by just naming it yourself or being mentioned by another person.
  • Inability to observe or detect the negative aspects of the potential partner.

Sexual attraction

Sexual attraction refers to the ability to attract the sexual interest of potential reproductive partners. In the human being it is understood as the ability to generate erotic interest in other people. Attraction can be enhanced by elements such as clothing, smells (eg perfume), way of moving, etc. (Wikipedia, 2017).

Some characteristics of sexual attraction are:

  • Feeling excited
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Flushing, racing pulse, sweating, stuttering
  • In men have; V-shaped figure, shoulders wider than hips, flat abdomen, healthy teeth and skin, etc..
  • In women have; smooth and clean skin, shiny hair, wiggle gait, full breasts, wide hips, narrow waist, etc..
  • Exchange of glances and smiles


Currently, two positions regarding the explanation of love are more accepted, one corresponds to the Psychologist Robert Sternberg and the other to the Anthropologist Helen Fisher.

Triangular theory of love: In this theory it is stated that for there to be true love, there must be three components: passion, intimacy and decision or commitment. Each of these concepts is defined as follows:

  • Passion: sexual or romantic desire of great intensity, accompanied by a strong tendency to seek physical and / or emotional union with the other.
  • Intimacy: knowledge of the other and trust in what they are, what they do and what they feel. Closeness and concern for their well-being. Need for rapprochement and mutual revelation.
  • Decision or commitment: willingness to maintain the bond and feeling of responsibility in this regard. Interest in overcoming adversity and perpetuating affection, beyond temporary circumstances (Sánchez, 2015).

On the other hand, the anthropologist and director of the Research department of Rutgers University, in New Jersey (United States) Helen Fisher, postulates that there are three active brain programs in love, she calls them: Sexual impulse or Lust, Romantic love and the Affection or attachment.

Love from the neurosciences

Some interesting data from a neuroscience point of view, found in her research, Helen Fisher points out:

  • People in love are more active in the ventral tegmental area of ​​the brain, which produces dopamine, and in the caudate nucleus.
  • Both areas are part of the basic reward system, which is associated with motivation to achieve goals. "The area of ​​the ventral tegmental zone in which we find activity is the same that is activated when the person experiences the so-called high of cocaine" (that is, when we are in love, we are materially addicted to the other person),
  • This indicates that "romantic love is not an emotion, but is an impulse, a physiological need of the human being".
  • Remember that dopamine is the hormone of pleasure, so the loved one gives us pleasure when we see him, live together or just remember him. However, in people who have suffered from some rejection they found brain activity in the area of ​​the same reward system: in part of the nucleus accumbens, which is related to addictive behaviors (such as gambling), in the insular cortex, which is associated with physical pain, and in the lateral orbital-frontal cortex, related to obsessive thoughts.
  • This would explain why some people remain in love despite having been rejected since these areas still belong to the reward system, in which dopamine acts. "Despite not receiving what you want, dopamine continues to work".
  • Some of the mechanisms that are activated in falling in love are the same in men and women, such as the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area..
  • However, there are differences: "In men we have found more activity in part of the upper lobe, which is associated with the integration of visual stimuli, while in women, the areas that come into play are related to memory and regards". In addition, he added that the brain activities that occur when one is in love only happen once in a couple's relationship, because "over time love turns into affection and attachment".
  • On the other hand, he found the relationship in the blindness of love. When we are in love, two areas of the brain are deactivated or function less efficiently: the prefrontal cortex and the brain amygdala. The prefrontal cortex, the area of ​​our rational and brightest thoughts. When the brain is in love, we idealize the partner. And, the impact on the brain amygdala, which is related to fear, "we do not see the aspects that we do not like and we accept the rest" (Fisher, 2004; Quesada, 2007). At this last point when we are in love we are not only addicted to the couple but also blind.

Adolescents are an explosion of emotions, if I'm in love I don't think and I only feel. However, love implies a strategy to live in the long term, it is not only to experience the immediacy of pleasure.

Loving and loving is not the same as the song says, when we really love, we are aware of the positive and negative aspects of our relationship. However, despite the negative aspects, we decided to stay there, because we are consciously capable of balancing both sides of the scale, not by being idealistic but realistic. You do not try to change the way of being of the couple.

When these programs work with a single partner, materially we find ourselves in the paradise of love: 1) We like it and we are attracted to it, as well as we to him or her (sexual impulse or lust); 2) we make plans together and separately thinking about enjoying and being in the loved one (romantic love); and 3) we enjoy spending time together, it is an investment of staying together because we feel affection and also think about the future with him or her (affection or attachment). However, there is a complication, these programs can also be activated each one separately and with different pairs at the same time.

As can be seen later, what adolescents experience is not love, but infatuation and with it some of their characteristics such as feeling: attraction, desire, liking for a person and all the manifestations around it (caresses, kisses, looks, including many times sexual intercourse).

In a brain in love James Pfaus, director of the neurobiology laboratory at Concordia University in Canada points out: the circuits related to are turned on; confidence, happiness and drug addiction. And, the circuits related to: sadness, depression, reasoning and self-control are turned off (Galilea, 2014).

Signs that teens have a partner

The indicators that adolescents take into account when they feel that they are preparing for a relationship or are already experiencing it are: Physical, Social and Psychological.


  • We just kiss
  • We have only one free,
  • Are; friends with rights, friends, friends, chocolate boyfriends (if there is something between us, but that does not count, it is just like a game), special friends, etc..
  • We only have sex, but we are nothing, we are only experiencing
  • I like…, and I like…


  • We walk together
  • We are friends nothing more
  • If my [email protected] have [email protected], I can or deserve it too!!


  • I feel [email protected] and I need a boyfriend or a girlfriend
  • After a few days of relationship, they say: "I love you"

All these variations generally imply intimate-erotic contact, little depth in affective relationships and also little social commitment. It is going beyond friendship, whose origin is almost always the social group of belonging.

Signs Parents See in Their Teenagers When They Have a Partner

The indicators detected by parents refer more to coexistence with their children and are fundamentally: Psychological and Social.


  • They feel very happy if someone listens to them (laugh)
  • They feel very sad if someone ignores them (they cry)
  • They get nervous when they talk about ... (the potential partner)


  • They are copying our example (model) for better or for worse
  • They say they know a child who is ... and they talk about his qualities
  • At first they are [email protected] but then they comment that they like a child
  • They care more about their grooming
  • He says he likes a child

Falling in love is very intense and beautiful, but there are also disappointments in love and they generate a state of discomfort. The good or bad behaviors that are experienced in this phase can greatly influence their life as an adult and continue without them realizing it (neural pruning). The first love is never forgotten (imprint).

The falling out of love with the first love is also part of the learning of love and can be given by ...:

  • An infidelity, dating violence, the censure of the parents themselves towards a relationship of the children,

This can generate a grief accompanied by: pain, suffering, sadness, a feeling of emptiness, hopelessness and depression. If all symptoms persist for more than 15 days, professional help is needed. Therefore, we need to teach them to close relationships healthily.

If this is not achieved, they could go to a pathological level experiencing: Jealousy, harassment from the ex-partner, threats from social networks and violence or harm towards himself or other people (friends or ex-partner)

Understanding adolescence

Childhood and adolescence (8 to 20 years) are key periods to understand the future relationships that they will have as adults in health or illness. There are physiological, social and psychosocial markers. Let's see some of them:


  • Rapid and uneven bone growth, sexual impulse appears, change in voice, musculature, maturation of sexual organs, appearance of acne, pubic hair loss, breast enlargement and the first menstruation (women), emission of semen during the night or wet dreams (men), confrontation of ideals with parents or authorities. Greater importance to intimate or erotic relationships and distance from their groups of friends.


  • Gender stereotyped behavior begins, coexistence with the group is more important over coexistence with the family, social awareness and long-term planning are developed more, greater independence and responsibility are sought in the environment that surrounds them (Ballesté , 2016).


  • Adolescence is defined as the period of life that begins with the biological, hormonal, and physical changes of puberty and ends at the age in which the individual achieves a stable, independent role in Society (Blakemore, 2013).

There is the perception that adolescence begins in increasingly early stages of life and ends in later years. Under this last definition, our young adults will continue to be adolescents despite having a university degree, if they are not yet independent from their parents or if they live in another house, but their parents continue to pay their bills..

What are the consequences of allowing children to have a partner?

Gender stereotypes present in society affect us from those early stages of love life. In this regard, Sergio Sinay (2001) points out: "Women are experts in love and men in sex, says our stereotyped cultural model that is still in force." I observe that in women the word is linked to solidarity, it is a means of uniting, sharing, pitying (in the sense of sharing passions). In men the word is related to power.

Stereotypes or not, women are associated as more sentimental, supportive, empathetic, communicative, loving, who also, before deciding on an affective relationship, analyzes the context of her potential partner. While men are associated as more visual, sexual, they are not so interested in the context of their partner, and with a culturally repressed emotionality they also unconsciously seek a maternal side in them. And, this is reflected many times in the discontent of the parents in the possible choice of partner of [email protected] [email protected] Parents say: How did you fall in love with that bum? any one?

However, girls fall more in love ... with someone who:

  • He understands her, Makes her feel valuable, loved and listened to, Has a better speech, Does riskier things or stands out more within a group (the good or bad leader), His choice is more emotional and more emotional

However, guys fall more in love ... with someone who:

  • It attracts them more visually, it gives them more status for being prettier, having more of a maternal side (to listen to you, advise you, give you affection and affection)

If we allow them to have a partner it is important ...:

  • Establish the rules of coexistence inside and outside the house, Know what are the strengths and weaknesses of the potential partner of our children?

If we do not allow it, but they decide to have a partner

  • They will have a partner clandestinely, They will experience their sexuality without having a parental guide with the risks that this entails, The rules of having an [email protected] will be set by the children, but not the parents, They could have a partner just for the fact that the others [email protected] have it

Unintended pregnancy

Early pregnancy is a fact that is increasingly spreading in developed societies. Having a partner carries the risk of experiencing sexual intercourse without the care and responsibility of an adult. Thus, teenage pregnancy is a reality that can change your future life.

  • It occurs in third world and first world countries.
  • It is currently a serious PUBLIC HEALTH problem.
  • In the world there are ... 16 million (Ballesté, 2016).
  • Almost half a million Mexican women under the age of 20 gave birth in 2005 (Unicef, 2016).

Most of the boys think: "you only live once", "you have to live life", "it won't happen to me", "I don't get infected or get pregnant", "that's why there is the pill of the day next "," if you do it only once nothing happens ".

The problem of explanations based on "common sense" is not typical of adolescents but of all human beings. In psychology it is known as the "but-if-I-already-knew-it" phenomenon. We tend to resort to explanations after knowing the facts, if we do something and nothing happens, then we already knew. Unfortunately, humans overestimate their ability to foresee. Similarly, in everyday life, we don't expect something to happen, until it happens (Myers, 1991).


A myth is a type of primitive-popular literary creation that tries to explain by a pseudo-scientific and pseudo-religious path certain phenomena of nature through implausible narratives (Concept, 2011).

There are myths or false beliefs about different topics related to adolescent sexuality, some of the most common are:

  • Pregnancy can only occur if the man ejaculates inside the woman's vagina
  • The woman never gets pregnant in the first sexual intercourse
  • If there is no orgasm in the woman, there is no pregnancy
  • Vaginal washing after sexual intercourse is an effective method to kill sperm and prevent them from reaching the egg.
  • When you fall in love EVERYTHING in the relationship is very beautiful and no one gets hurt

What are the limits to allow children to have a partner?

Many times parents have not set limits on their children because they assume that they can be traumatized or do not want to take the blame for prohibiting any activity. However, limits, routines, and rules serve to educate. It is about being friendly with the children, but not friends with them because we would lose our own paternity and symbolically leave them orphans. The rules as such depend on the values ​​of each family and are applied for better or for worse by the parents themselves or by the children when the parents are absent:

When parents forbid [email protected] to have a partner they say, you cannot have [email protected]:

  • Until you finish university, Until you finish your studies, Until you have a job, First you must learn to do your homework, First we need to spend time ourselves and then you will have an [email protected], You can't have it because my parents don't they allowed me to have [email protected]

When parents accept that the [email protected] have a partner they say:

  • Take him with us on vacation, Invite him with your uncles and your grandparents, to go with us to the movies or to the party of ..., You can have it because my parents did not allow me, but I do give you permission, Go out and have fun but with responsibility, I take you to a square or to a party and then we pass by you, If you are going to start having sex, I better take you to the gynecó [email protected], Get out but I want you back at ...

When children are authorized to have [email protected] they say, I can have it because ...:

  • I have good grades, I have already fulfilled my housework, [email protected] at school they have [email protected], I deserve it, I feel [email protected], I am old enough to have it, Because I can already have sex

Practical advice for parents

  • There are no princes or princesses
  • Falling in love with our children is as important as any other stage of their life
  • They must be given information to help them demystify the images of courtship, attraction and love.
  • It is very intense and beautiful, but there are also disappointments in love and they generate a state of discomfort
  • The good or bad behaviors that are experienced in this phase can greatly influence their life as an adult and remain without them realizing it (neural pruning).

It is important in this matter to consider that:

  • Communication is the foundation of trust with children
  • Do not see the subject as a taboo
  • Clarifying the myths of sexual intercourse
  • Listen to them, try to understand them and not censor them
  • Don't make fun of them to build their trust
  • Make the decision to allow them or not to have an [email protected] according to the values ​​of their own family
  • Do not expose the case of having [email protected] with other family members, neither as a form of recognition, nor as a form of mockery
  • We need to be aware that the needs of our children are changing and sooner or later they will be in the decision to have a partner
  • It is important to give them the time and space to talk about the issue without putting pressure on them.
  • If the daughter or son was allowed to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, don't close off to meet the person
  • A relationship implies: responsibility, commitment, decision-making and also preparing them for the breakup

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