PDA: How affectionate is too affectionate?
by Mary Jo Rapini
Teens are advertising their relationships out in public all the time. Go to Facebook or MySpace and you can see whom they are dating, whom they formerly dated, and basically everything they have done in the past month. It is scary, especially if that teen happens to be yours.
Even when your child goes to college, they will be showing their personal life to everyone they accept as their friend (don't feel bad if your friendship status is ignored, it happens to all of us). I like my privacy as many other people do and I am not comfortable with discussing my relationship status, what I am doing at this minute, or what I did last night with all of my "new friends." My view is not shared among most teens though. This sharing of information is also physically acted out in public with our children's boyfriends and girl friends. It is called PDA or public display of affection. The schools are tip toeing around the topic but they, too, are uncomfortable with how much is too much.
Whenever I go to Italy or Spain, I love to watch mothers and daughters walking down the street arm and arm. I also love to see men in a warm embrace and kissing each other as a greeting. It seems right to me and whether that is because I am Italian or just very demonstrative, I believe hugging and kissing are more important than guns and bombs. However, seeing two teens groping each other in the school hall or at my friend's home makes me feel uncomfortable. My discomfort comes from a feeling that the teens are not respecting themselves or their parents, the school rules or anyone who is in the room. I am all for passion, but I believe there is a time and place, and in front of others is not the time or place.
As children grow they learn by trying new experiences. Their parents guide them, direct them and then they develop a sense of right or wrong with regard to individual behaviors. Parents (my friend included) would tell her daughter if she had chocolate on her face to go wipe it off, she would tell her it was inappropriate to talk with her mouth full, but yet when her boyfriend comes over and starts kissing her, or pulls her onto his lap, the parents freeze and don't know what to say.
A Quick Guide on What to Say to TOO Much PDA
1. Tell your teen when you are alone with them. They may be angry or embarrassed but don't let that stop you from saying this.
"Your father and I or 'your mother and I' are not okay with you hanging all over, kissing your boyfriend, sitting in your boyfriends lap (whatever the offending behavior is). We believe it is disrespectful and we don't approve of it. We do not think it is appropriate at school either.
"We can see you really care for whatever his name is and we think he is a nice boy (or girl) as the case may be, so we are concerned your behavior may influence our respect for him/her also."
Do tell a teen what is appropriate behavior in your home.
2. As a parent you may say, "We think holding hands, a quick kiss or an affectionate hug is okay." Then talk with your teen in regards to ways they can express their affection besides the way they are currently expressing it (deep kisses and hands all over each other). Teens will talk to you if you ask questions that encourage them to think and affords them some control. This also helps the teen understand that you are trying to help, that you are not being judgmental or critical.
The schools cannot be held accountable to raise your children and teach them at the same time. Parents need to guide their children, make the tough calls and follow through. Your kids are watching you all of the time. As our children grow up we think they don't notice anything but their friends; wake up, you are still their most important mentor. Kids become what they learn from home. Talk to your kids, listen to your kids, discipline and respect your kids.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.