'How To Deal With Your Teenager in Love' with Kimberly Kirberger

Last Editorial Review: 3/24/2004

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Kim Kirberger, co-author of the best-selling 'Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul' series, shares her wisdom and offers advice on understanding a teenager's love relationships.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Event_Moderator Welcome to WebMD Live. Today we will be discussing how to deal with your teenager in love with author Kim Kirberger.

Event_Moderator Kim is the creator of the best selling "Teen Love" series, and co-author of the New York Times number one best seller, "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul." She is the president and founder of Inspiration and Motivation for Teens, Inc., and involved in several non-profit organizations, including St. Anne's and Yellow Ribbon Project. Kim is also the co-founder of the Teen Letter Project, an organization responsible for answering thousands of heartfelt letters from teens around the country to support and encourage them. Kim is committed to working for the empowerment and enrichment of teens, and has appeared as a teen consultant on several nationally broadcasted radio and television shows. By facilitating understanding and communication, Kim strives to provide teens with more recognition and better treatment within our society.

Event_Moderator Kim, welcome to the show.

Kimberly_Kirberger Thank you. Glad to be here.

Event_Moderator What do you recommend to a teenager who is considering sexual activity?

Kimberly_Kirberger Let's just jump in. I actually don't usually talk too much about that but... it's a very serious thing. I think it's an adult activity and what I usually talk about is, and what I like to encourage is teenagers going slow, enjoying and getting to know what it feels like to be in love, enjoy holding hands, maybe kissing and don't be in such a hurry to partake in what I consider to be adult behavior. Emotionally there's just no way that you can prepared for what a sexual relationship entails.

Event_Moderator What concerns do adolescents have today that they did not have twenty years ago?

Kimberly_Kirberger There's obvious ones like we did not have to worry about getting shot when we went to school, about possibly getting a life threatening disease when we had sex. We did not have an environment that was in such a serious condition.  I also feel that teenagers today have many advantages that we didn't have. I think teenagers are being raised with more equality. I think their feelings and emotions are being taken more seriously and that they're part of a generation where we're trying to have more understanding and compassion for what it is to be an adolescent.

Event_Moderator How can a parent make a teenager feel comfortable sharing their feelings about and experiences with love with them?

Kimberly_Kirberger They can't necessarily make that happen and there's nothing wrong if that isn't the case. One thing parents can do is make sure to help their teenager have another adult friend that isn't their parent that they can talk to. It would be great if it was someone the parent trusted. A lot of times teenagers don't feel comfortable talking to their parents about those feelings. They can listen, not jump in and give advice and do their best to show understanding and compassion. That will keep lines of communication open as they can be.

Event_Moderator How would a parent intervene if they thought that a person their teen is dating could be a harmful influence in some way?

Kimberly_Kirberger One thing that I tell parents in this situation is not to focus on the person that they're worried about. For instance, if it's a boyfriend, don't talk to your child about him but talk to your child about them and their feelings. For instance, make sure you teenager knows that love should feel good. If you're in a relationship, the person you're with should make you feel good about yourself and you should be happy. If you're not happy in a relationship, you should consider ending it. A teenager is always going to defend the other party if that's who the parents are attacking. When you make it personal about them, you want to make them think about their own happiness. When you do that, they're much more open to what you have to say.

the_ref_WebMD Who would be an appropriate adult friend, other than a parent, to talk to about relationships?

Kimberly_Kirberger I am that for a lot of teenagers. Anybody that you trust to be wise and someone with integrity, someone with same values that you have; teachers, counselors.  For me it was my aunt.

Event_Moderator Is there an appropriate age for adolescents to become sexually active?

Kimberly_Kirberger That's not for me to say. I can't--I personally don't think so but it's not something I feel qualified to discuss.

Event_Moderator What do you recommend to the parents of a teenager who is sexually active?

Kimberly_Kirberger I do believe that we do have to accept as parents that whether we like it or not, once our child is a teenager, we lose a lot of the control that we used to have. If you know that your child is sexually active, then you want to be sure that they're being as safe as possible. There's no way that you can actually stop that from happening. You can teach them about birth control and about safety from STD's and things like that. The biggest and hardest lesson for parents of teenagers is accepting that there are things that we can't control and thereby, once we accept that, we can at least do the things that are helpful rather than fight a losing battle.

Event_Moderator My parents don't seem to respect the seriousness of my relationships. What can I do to make them see me as a person with the same feelings as them?

Kimberly_Kirberger This is the area that I am really qualified to talk about. That's really sad and I think that's a very real problem. In my book on teen love, it's something I write about a lot that I do think that teenage love is real and that those feelings are very real. I think the best thing to do is calmly sit down with your parents. Don't talk to them--don't be yelling at them but let them know you want to have a serious conversation. Tell them that you feel hurt that they're not acknowledging and respecting your feelings. And to please try to remember what it was like when they were teenagers.

Event_Moderator When I was 15, my parents punished me for something I did by prohibiting me from speaking to my girlfriend for a week. Is that right?

Kimberly_Kirberger I don't agree with it. I don't believe in grounding and punishment that lasts longer--unless it's a serious thing that she did--I think the punishment should not last for more than a day. To take away your communication with your friend is probably just like taking away food. Teenagers need their friends.

Event_Moderator What can a parent do when a child is "dumped" by their boyfriend or girlfriend?

Kimberly_Kirberger Offer a lot of compassion. Let your child know that you're there for them and anything that you can do you will. Also remind them of times in their life when they were hurting and they got over it. Remind them that they have the strength and the ability to recover. Other than that, just be very kind and understanding that it's really a very hard time for them and it feels to them exactly like it would feel if your husband/wife left you.

Event_Moderator My 17-year-old son never seems to go out with the same girl twice. Should I be concerned?

Kimberly_Kirberger Yeah. I mean, I would say that's something you might want to gently...you might want to wonder if he has fear about closeness. Maybe he's just picky. If it were my son, I might just want to ask questions about whether he's afraid of getting more involved with somebody, just question those kind of things.

Event_Moderator My daughter who is 16 has been dating the same boy for almost a year now. Is that too long for such a young age?

Kimberly_Kirberger No. I don't think so.

Event_Moderator How can a teenage girl improve her self-image?

Kimberly_Kirberger This is something that I deal with a lot in the book on teen love. There are exercises that she can do. Self love is something we have to consciously decide that we're going to work on. It isn't a given. There are actual things that you can do every day to improve your self worth and your self esteem. I go into that in great detail in the book.

Event_Moderator What are some of the exercises she can do to improve her self-image?

Kimberly_Kirberger Make a list of 20 things that you can do that make you happy, that make you feel good about yourself. Example; take a hot bath. Go for a long walk. Do exercises. Eat a salad. Then every day, go to that list and try to do--start with doing one thing from that list every day and then move up to 2 things from that list every day. It requires a conscious effort.

Event_Moderator What if they are resistant to that?

Kimberly_Kirberger They won't be resistant to it if you give them the right reasons for wanting to do it. Maybe the parent isn't the best person. For instance, we talk about it as the first step in having successful relationships (in book), thereby the motivation might start out being so that you can get a boy/girlfriend. In the end, the result will still be the same.

Event_Moderator Are girls ready for emotional relationships sooner than boys are?

Kimberly_Kirberger Yes. I believe so.

Event_Moderator Why is that?

Kimberly_Kirberger Girls mature a little faster and also I think because girls from a young age discuss their feelings and emotions with their friends and because talking about our emotions is the thing that helps us to grow and mature.

Event_Moderator What do you recommend to a teenager who is going through sexual identity problems?

Kimberly_Kirberger To be very kind to yourself, to understand that whatever your sexual identity turns out to be that the first step is to accept that and to love yourself. If you're really struggling with it, perhaps see if you can speak with a therapist, somebody who works with this kind of issue.

Event_Moderator How did you go about compiling the data for this book?

Kimberly_Kirberger I have spoken to hundreds of teenagers. I've received over 60,000 letters from teenagers and I have a web page that is visited by thousands of teenagers a week where they post feelings about relationships and questions. I also have on my staff 7 teenagers who I consult for all the books.

Event_Moderator What made you start this book? What gave you the idea?

Kimberly_Kirberger The Teen Love book was a result of receiving so many letters from teenagers asking me for love advice and also my belief that the reason we're seeing the violence and the drug use and all the other terrible things we are seeing is because we aren't teaching our children emotional coping skills. Being a teenager means being overwhelmed with tons of new feelings, new emotions. They're confused. It's a very scary time. You get your feelings hurt really easily and yet nobody's teaching them how to deal with all of that.

Event_Moderator Why is it that young girls go from being very confident and easy-going pre-teens to be insecure and frightened teens overnight?

Kimberly_Kirberger A lot of it's hormonal. An increase in hormones tend to make us more sensitive, more vulnerable. It's part of the growth process. Becoming a teenager means becoming very aware of yourself in a way that you haven't experienced before. Until you get comfortable in your own skin, being aware of yourself is a very uncomfortable thing.

Event_Moderator Who are positive role models for adolescents in today's media?

Kimberly_Kirberger It's something that concerns me, that we hold celebrity in such high regard and yet we don't celebrate writers. We don't celebrate women that are successful or adults that are successful in other areas like the person who is finding cures for disease. It's something that I am doing whatever I can to change that but it is something that concerns me.

Event_Moderator Can I prohibit my daughter from dating certain boys that strike me as "jerks," or is there a way at least to influence her away from that kind of guy?

Kimberly_Kirberger Once again, if you make it about the other person, they'll rebel against you. All you can do is teach your daughter that relationships should make her feel good. Put the focus on her. Also, empower her by saying things to her like, "I'm so proud of you." You seem to be learning a lot about not dating guys that don't treat you well. It's almost like say to her that she is how you want her to be rather than telling her that she's not that.

Event_Moderator What can a parent do if they feel that their teen is not handling relationships appropriately, such as treating their boyfriend or girlfriend badly?

Kimberly_Kirberger As long as you don't feel that your child is in any danger, a lot of times we have to step back and let them make their own mistakes. You can give them good books to read about...you can make sure that they have at their disposal good information about relationships and things like that.

Event_Moderator Do you think too many parents don't spend enough family time with their teens so that today's teens are more isolated?

Kimberly_Kirberger Yes, but I don't necessarily blame the parents. We live in a time where unfortunately both parents have to work to put food on the table. I think family time is really important and it's important to try to make family time when we can even though teenagers would really rather be with their friends anyway.

Event_Moderator Are there different ways/rules/frames-of-mind depending on whether a parent is dealing with a daughter or son who is dating?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think so. I have a son and he just went on his first date tonight. I actually kissed him goodbye as the phone was ringing. As a parent, I'm very excited and I'm all smiles. However, I've noticed that my friends who have daughters are scared to death when their daughter goes on her first date.

Event_Moderator Why do you think that is?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think there's some pretty distorted perceptions that are the reason for that. Such as, I keep hearing from fathers that they're worried about their daughters because they remember what they were like when they were teenagers. When I was a teenage girl, unless I really forget how it was, I dated great guys. Now I wonder, was I just oblivious to what was really going on or are guys over-exaggerating the way they used to be?

Event_Moderator My 16-year-old daughter is dating a 25-year-old man. What do I do?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think sit down and have a talk with the 25-year-old man. If he's not willing to have that talk with you then I'm not sure what you do next. Certainly advise your daughter that if she were to have sexual relations with him, he could go to prison.

Event_Moderator The girls today are bombarded with sexual images that tell them that being sexually overt is the way to go. How you you fight that?

Kimberly_Kirberger I agree with him/her. I don't know. It's something I wonder about every day. That and also all the images of girls that are 90 pounds. I also worry about that. I think these are the kinds of conversations that we can have with our teenagers where we just discuss it as an issue but don't make it about them so they don't feel like they're being attacked. Start out by asking them what they think about it and do you think guys really are attracted to girls who act like that? Let them talk to you and tell you what their thoughts are. My experience is they'll talk about yeah, guys don't like girls that look or act like tramps.

Event_Moderator If your 16-year-old daughter is dating a 25-year-old man, you have bigger problems than you think you do. She's in big trouble.

Kimberly_Kirberger It's an area that is kind of scary for me to answer on a live chat. I do think it's a big issue that perhaps they need to talk to a professional.

Event_Moderator At what point can a parent be too lenient with a dating teen?

Kimberly_Kirberger Once again, how much control do we really have over our teenagers is the real question here. Our teenager gets in a car and goes on a date; all we can do is hope we have instilled in them values and all the information that they need to make life choices.

Event_Moderator What do you think of the current trend of group sleepovers (like prom night) even if the parents are at home?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think it's fine. I know lots of teenagers that do that and they tell me the truth about what goes on and there's nothing going on that needs to be worried about.

Event_Moderator How should a single parent handle dating in front of their teenager? Are there any specific do's or don'ts?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think the most important thing is that whoever the parent is dating, they need to have some kind of relationship with the child, whether it just be a respectful "Hello, how are you." There needs to be some connection between that person and your children. Other than that, just basic good sense. You don't want to be on the couch making out and have your teenager walk in.

Event_Moderator How can a teenager get a reluctant parent to listen to their concerns and problems?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think the best thing to do is tell your parents that you want to have a talk with them. Schedule a time, ask them for a time when they can give you their undivided attention so that you set it up, letting them know it's important to you. Then, when you do sit down with them, be calm and just talk to them about what you're feeling and try not to blame them or make them wrong. Talk to them about what's going on for you and how you feel about it. That works both ways.

Event_Moderator How much affection should parents show (and not show) each other in front of their kids?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think affection is a great thing to show in front of your kids but not sexual affection.

Event_Moderator I know that we all need to make our own mistakes, but why doesn't my son listen to any of my advice when it comes to relationships?

Kimberly_Kirberger Because he's a teenager. I have a son and he doesn't listen to me either.

Event_Moderator What advice can you give to a parent who is having a hard time coping with a newly dating teen?

Kimberly_Kirberger There's a great book called, "Uncommon Sense" for parents of teenagers. It's by Mike Rivera. If she reads this book, it'll really help.

Event_Moderator The pressure on today's teens must be immense. Are they growing up too fast and becoming too sophisticated too soon?

Kimberly_Kirberger I tend to think that there's no such thing as too fast or too soon. It's just what is. And we do need to have compassion for the fact that they are under a lot more pressure than we sometimes realize.

Event_Moderator How can I protect my daughter when I see her making such obvious mistakes over and over?

Kimberly_Kirberger When our children become teenagers, we can no longer control them in the way we could when they were younger. All we can do is keep reminding them what they're doing right. If she ever made one right choice, remind her of that and remind her of how much happier she was when she made that right choice. That's really all we can do because part of being a teenager is having to make your own choices, make your own mistakes and, as parents, we can only try to empower them. We can't change what they do.

Event_Moderator Why is it that some teens seem so troubled and tormented and others seem to have such an easier time?

Kimberly_Kirberger Once again, this is something I wonder about a lot myself. There are a lot of teenagers that are really suffering. Sometimes I think it's because they aren't able to talk about the things they're going through and work those things out. And so they feel very lonely. They feel like they're the only ones going through what they're going through. All the letters that I receive from teenagers, about 100 a day, they always say that until they read the Chicken Soup Books or the Teen Love book, they thought they were the only ones going through what they were going through. I think the most important thing is for them to know that they're not alone.

Event_Moderator Are teens today almost too savvy for their own good?

Kimberly_Kirberger I don't think so.

Event_Moderator Do you have a personal story of teenage love you can share?

Kimberly_Kirberger When I was in Jr. High, I had a boyfriend who I was madly in love with and who was my boyfriend for 2 years. One day my dad came home from work and announced that we had to move. I was devastated. I remember, to this day, how much I suffered having to leave this guy and move 1000 miles away. I think this memory is part of the reason that I chose to work with teenagers and part of the reason that I understand how hard it is for them to go through break-ups or to just live the day-to-day life of a teenager.

Event_Moderator Do you think separate schools is a good idea, especially for girls?

Kimberly_Kirberger I think that there's pros and cons to both. I think that when girls and boys are in school together, there's a lot of experience and lessons that they get that they might not get in separate schools. But then in separate schools, they're able to focus more on their education and less on their relationships.

Event_Moderator Is it unhealthy to suppress sexual urges? Why or why not?

Kimberly_Kirberger That depends on what that means. I think it's normal for teenagers to masturbate but I don't think a teenager that has a sexual urge should go out and have sex so that they don't suppress their sexual urge.

Event_Moderator What can a parent do if they don't like the person their teen is dating?

Kimberly_Kirberger One thing they can do is try and figure out why they don't like that person, make sure that there's a good reason. I'm a big advocate of sitting down and talking to people. Maybe they could talk to the person their teenager is dating and see if that helps. If he's like a bad person, then we go back to my other answer of trying to convince your teenager that they could be happier with someone else.

Event_Moderator What is the next book you have in the works?

Kimberly_Kirberger It's called "Teen Love on Friendship".

Event_Moderator What is that about?

Kimberly_Kirberger It's a book with the same format as Teen Love on Relationships; questions and answers about friendship, poetry and stories. Friendship is as trying for teenagers as relationships are. 

Event_Moderator Are teens today apt to have more friends of the opposite sex than in previous generations?

Kimberly_Kirberger Yes and I think it's great.

Event_Moderator Any last thoughts on this subject?

Kimberly_Kirberger To the parents that are reading or listening, it's so important to support your teenager during this time and as much as it may seem like they're pushing you away and don't want anything to do with you, they need your love and support now more than ever. For the teenagers who are out there, just be easy on yourself and know that all this is for your learning. It does get easier.

Event_Moderator Thank you for joining us, Kim. 

Kimberly_Kirberger Thank you very much.

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