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Can Your Teen Recognize Real Love?

What is Love?

Meeting with some high school girls the other night, one girl excitedly pulled out the heart necklace with diamonds that her boyfriend had given her. She in turn had given him a necklace with a charm that read, “I love you.”

They’ve been dating for three months.

In my work with teenagers, I am noticing a trend. They have no idea what defines real love. They think love is a feeling, an emotional sensation that comes easy, an unexplainable spark. If it’s hard work, then that can’t be the real thing. Love is blind, love is passionate, love sweeps you off your feet.

Too often young people mistake infatuation for love. They give themselves physically and attach themselves emotionally, risking their bodies, hearts, and futures for a temporary imitation of the real thing.

February is the month of love, the month of romance and candy hearts and seeing red everywhere we go. As parents, it is a priceless opportunity to engage your children in conversations about how to recognize and find *real* love. 

Here are some different aspects of love that kids needs to hear us teach *and* see us model in our own relationships, whether with them, with spouses, or other family and friends. 

Love is a Choice
Every day that we wake up, we have a choice whether or not to love the people closest to us, regardless of how we may feel towards them in the moment. Authentic love is not contingent on emotions, on the other person’s behavior, or on our circumstances. It is a choice we make to selflessly give of ourselves to another person, to love them even when we don’t like them.

Love is not Blind
Each of us longs to be known for all of who we are, knowing that we are accepted and loved for our beauty and our blemishes. Only when we have had a chance to get to know the whole of a person, seeing them at their best and sticking by them at their worst, can we then say we truly love them. Teens in particular resonate with this, as they’re often struggling with insecurity and uncertainty. They’re constantly wondering who cares about them and if people really love them for all of them. 

Love Takes Time
In order to be able to see a person for who they truly are, to get beyond the veneer of those intoxicating first few months, a couple needs time to go through different experiences, to see each other tired, frustrated, angry, happy, etc. How do they handle failure and disappointment? Do they interact the same with friends as when they’re with you one on one? Do they have character and integrity or do they say one thing but do another? Only over months and even years can your child begin to understand a person for who they are and then choose whether to love them for that. 

Love Is About the Other Person
Too often teens (and even some adults), mistake infatuation or a crush, for love. Infatuation is selfish, focused primarily on my own feelings. Am I having fun with this person? Do they make me happy? Do they add to my life and are they meeting my needs?

Real love focuses more on the other person’s needs than my own, even to the point that I am willing to sacrifice my own desires for their happiness. Not as a door mat to be walked over and taken advantage of (Love also has healthy boundaries), but as one who cares for the other as you care for yourself (Philippians 2: 4-5, Ephesians 5:28-29, 33).

As Pat Benatar sang, Love is a battlefield. In order to give your child the best chance at winning that battle, be intentional about teaching them to recognize a love worth the fight.

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