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Protecting Teenage Girls from Becoming ‘Hopeless Romantics’

October 6th, 2017     By Father Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director of Boys Town

Coping Skills for Teens, Harmful Behaviors, Parent-Child Relationships, Parenting Skills, Teen, Tweens, Understanding Behavior

For many girls, the teen years are a time when they go what we used to call "boy crazy."

Teenage girls become very aware of how they look, how they act and how boys see them, and this can greatly affect their emotional and behavioral development.  Ideally, when they're ready, girls start dating boys, get to know them and enter into relationships that can range from friendship, to feeling close to someone, to the beginnings of romantic love. In all of these relationships, maturity and good judgment, along with parental guidance, usually determine whether they will be positive experiences or negative experiences.

Some relationships, however, veer into the area of infatuation, where a girl becomes obsessed with being with one particular guy and will do anything to secure and maintain his attention.

At Boys Town, we see girls who are coping with the damage of living the life of what we call a "hopeless romantic." They believed they were in love with a guy and that the guy was in love with them. But they picked the wrong guy. These guys were possessive, domineering, and sometimes verbally or physically abusive; they were users and abusers who wanted nothing more than to be in total control.

These are the kinds of relationships that turn a girl's life, and the lives of her family members, upside down. The girl surrenders herself – body, mind and spirit – to the guy she "loves" and she can't stand to be apart from him. Pretty soon, nothing else matters except the "relationship," and neither her parents nor her friends can say anything critical about the guy, even when they see bad things happening. If they do, the girl cuts them off and shuts them off, choosing her guy over the people who really love and care about her. Many girls go so far as to give up their most cherished activities – music, sports, friendships, volunteering, even going to school – because they believe those activities get in the way of her relationship.

The worst part of these situations is when a guy leads a girl into dark places, treating her like property and using her sexually. In extreme cases, the relationship is a way for a guy to get a girl involved in sex trafficking, drugs and other criminal activity. The end result is a young woman who is hurt, ultimately abandoned and left hopeless.  

When these girls join our Boys Town family, we start their journey of healing by first teaching them how to trust again. We help them establish a foundation for building healthy relationships with other youth and adults, and help them refocus their minds on positive things like schoolwork and learning. We also help them re-discover their "spiritual core" so they can begin to make good decisions based on their moral compass and a sense of right and wrong.

It takes time, but girls who come to Boys Town from the dark places of harmful relationships eventually overcome their pain and recover their sense of self-worth and self-confidence. The most rewarding moments are those when they reconnect with their family, finally seeing that their parents and siblings only had their best interests at heart when they tried to intervene.

As parents, the most important responsibility you have is to love and protect your child. That's why it's okay to know who your daughter is dating, to ask questions and do some homework about her boyfriends, and to firmly speak up when you get the feeling that something just isn't right. This doesn't mean you have to harshly judge every boy your daughter wants to date. But it does mean caring enough to pay attention, to assess and ​evaluate a young man's words, behaviors and intentions, and to provide guidance to keep your daughter from falling into the trap of an abusive relationship.

You may not always be able to tell which guys are "right" for your daughter, but you should always be on the lookout for the wrong ones.

For more information about teen dating, visit Boys Town's parenting website at boystown.org/parenting​. ​

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