My 16 year-old daughter is in love. I want to call it “puppy love,” but I think she is really in love. Navigating teenage love can be difficult for the adults around them, including their parents and youth ministers. In my daughter’s situation, it actually caused such a stir that she and her boyfriend chose to attend a different Catholic Church. This was an unfortunate outcome, but one that our families and the youth ministers have learned from.
We learned to ask before you criticize. In our daughter’s situation, someone drew a conclusion based on wrong information and observation. That person involved others in our church, rather than just talking to the young couple. The effects were devastating. Both our families were incredibly hurt, felt judged and the kids felt like the adults around them didn’t really know them at all.
Teenagers in love don’t always see the world around them. They think everybody should understand how they feel about each other. They believe that no one has ever felt like this before and no one will again. For adults to minimize those feelings equates, in their minds, to finding their feelings invalid. We can and should set ground rules for their behavior, but not in a way that will automatically set up a confrontational atmosphere.
I remember the youth group leaders when I was in high school. A fairly young married couple, they inspired us. I had a serious boyfriend at that time. We believed we would be together forever. Thirty years later we are still great friends and godparents to each others kids. I believe this was, in part, because of the lessons that we learned from our youth group leaders’ example.
1. Love is a gift. It should not be taken lightly or played with. True love means self-sacrifice and putting the other person a head of yourself. Interestingly, St. Valentine, who is associated with love, is also the patron of young people.
2. Hearts should be protected. You cannot make clear-headed decisions about the person you are involved with if you engage in premarital sexual behavior. It clouds the mind and confuses the soul. True love waits.
3. Life is a journey that you will always remember. My older son used to belong to a band called Regret Remembers. I like to think about that phrase when I make decisions in my life. Instructing young people to act in a way that they will never regret is a life tool for a successful future.
4. Loving someone doesn’t mean excluding everyone else. Isolation is a dangerous trend when young people are in a relationship. A young person can realize one day that the relationship has ended and that they have no friends around to support them.
5. Love serves the community. Our youth group leaders served us out of love. My daughter and her boyfriend also serve out of love. They built housing for the poor this summer, they worked at a woman’s shelter, they help us out with the younger siblings, they show love from their abundance of it.
Love is important. God created us out of love. Christ died for us because of love. Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical was on love. We have an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed when the youth in our care experience feelings of love (possibly for the first time). As my youth group leaders did, we can help mold those feelings into something beautiful, precious, chaste and holy.