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Teens saying no to committed relationships

By J.E. Mathewson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

It’s a debate that rages in nearly every household throughout the nation — at least those households with a teenager. Should teens date seriously while in high school? Teens and experts are advising, just say "no."

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It’s a debate that rages in nearly every household throughout the nation — at least those households with a teenager. Should teens date seriously while in high school?

As a teenager, it is easy to get attached to a love interest, and as a parent it is easy to brush off the relationship and accuse the teen of not knowing what love really is.

Teens do love, however, and that is perfectly natural. They love their parents, their family and their pets. So it shouldn’t be hard to understand how they can feel love for a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Geoff Steurer, a licensed marriage and family therapist currently based in St. George, said that teens feeling that connection with a peer is normal.

“Teenagers are naturally insecure because they're in that strange place between needing someone and wanting to do their own thing,” Steurer said. “This exhausting push/pull between dependence and independence makes having an exclusive romantic relationship tempting for many teens because then they don't have to worry as much about not needing someone and doing their own thing. They get to have a relationship with someone all the time and don't worry about fitting in.”

However, Steurer said committed relationships before adulthood are actually a bad idea.

“The problem, however, is that they cut themselves off from getting to know themselves better as they interact with other people," he said. "How can you know who you are and what you like if you limit yourself to one experience?”

To see if teens agreed, this author posed this question on a Facebook page specifically aimed at teenagers who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “OK teens what is your take: Is it OK to have serious relationships in high school?”

The teens that replied agreed with Steurer.

“Serious relationships in high school make it so you can’t get to know other people,” wrote Rachel. “Plus, it causes unnecessary drama.”

Rachel suggested an alternative to cut the drama and pressure of committed relationships.

“I just talked to a few of my friends that went to prom with friends instead of boyfriends,” she said. “They said it was way more fun to not have that pressure.”

Another teen, Ange, wrote that she prefers to have a lot of friends and not worry about whether one guy likes you or not.

Steurer said the goal is to cast a wide net and capture as many experiences with as many people as possible before picking the one person you'll spend your life with.

“Teen years are a wonderful time to get that exposure,” he said. “I remember people signing my yearbook with things like, ‘Don't change!’ which seems laughable now because that's exactly what's going on in those years. Things change. I changed. People change. So, to lock yourself into a relationship with someone who is still developing stunts your growth and their growth.”

Steurer added it is also important to avoid intimate relationships at that age as well.

“When we are physically intimate with another person, it actually over-attaches us to them because our body releases bonding hormones (oxytocin) that create a powerful bond,” he said. “Activating this system and then walking away from it — because there isn't any intention on long-term commitment and follow-through — really messes with our bodies, emotions and thinking. When we're dating, we aren't making a commitment. We're only getting familiar with the person to see if we're willing to share everything with them, which includes our bodies, our hearts, our time, our money and so on. It's just not fair or smart to activate that whole attachment system and have no real plan or intention.”

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