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Relationships - March 2016

The Power of Young Love

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

The Power of Young Love

My 19 year old son and his girlfriend of one year are in the first year of college.  They have been inseparable the whole of that time.

My son has a promising future ahead of him but he seems to have dropped absolutely everything. It seems to me the girl is the complete opposite of him, with family values and morals apparently non-existent. I caught them having sex in my home one day, so she isn't welcome here anymore.
Now he wants to live with her near college instead of in residence.  He spends most of his time at her apartment anyway. He doesn't pay for school, we do, and he seems to think we will accept his behaviour.
She is so controlling that he hasn't met any new friends, rarely goes out with another guy or anyone else, has lost weight and almost failed his first semester/term.
At Christmas break we spent the entire time trying to get him better physically and she harassed him by texting constantly when he was with us. He was getting so worked up by this but seems torn between her and us, even when we have little time with him. I told him to be firm and tell her to stop being so demanding about where he is every minute. I think he realised what she is doing but still continues.
We are sure she will do anything to keep him regardless of how much it is hurting him, as he is her first and only boyfriend.
We are so disappointed as he seems to put everything second to her, even though the texting constantly disrupts family holiday dinners and appointments, while he is here for a short time. 

We are at our wits end and feel like pulling funding for next year’s college fees. What to do?

It always strikes me, when looking at this very difficult stage of young people’s lives that everyone around them has a fair bit of adjusting to do, as the teenagers plough on through all the experiences and temptations that open up to them.
It is so hard to stand back and watch your son or daughter race into those life experiences to the apparent exclusion of all things sensible and measured. All you have taught your son appears to have been put aside for the sake of a sexual relationship.

There are several points to remember about this time in a teenager’s life:

  1. You were a teenager once. That might or might not have involved the sexual elements your son is incorporating into his, and you certainly won’t have had the electronic ways of having constant contact with a boyfriend, but I bet you had times of great anxiety, deep pleasure, panic, puzzlement about how to act, as well as irritation or anger at parents keeping an eye on you or telling what and what not to do.


  1. The freedom young people experience when first away from their parents can seem as though they have just thrown everything worthwhile to the four winds. Perhaps they have, thanks to the hormonal tempest inside, but it almost always passes. How else will they get the feel of their own controls if they don’t test them? That so often involves overdoing something they are trying for the first time. It might not be sex, but there is much else to learn about – drinking or eating sensibly, keeping fit, avoiding drugs, a sleep/social/study balance.
  1. Banning a girl from her boyfriend’s home won’t make them stop having sex. What they have to know is that it is not acceptable behaviour in your house. That’s all. Try to make sure your son, for both his sake and hers, uses condoms -carelessness here generally damages two people at least, and sometimes a third, more innocent than either.


  1. It is highly unlikely that a girl can force a boy to have sex with her, though the same is not true the other way round. Your son is head-over-heels in lust, if not love, with his girlfriend. Such feelings wear out or adjust in the end, especially if they are living together…romance soon dissipates.
  1. Using a smart-phone all the time is endemic among young people and, when used inappropriately, few things are guaranteed to infuriate a parent more. That is another skill he and his girlfriend have to learn in order to ‘graduate’ to true adulthood. 


  1. His college performance is worrying but it is up to him now. Even though you pay for it, like thousands of parents worldwide, you have no ‘right’ to monitor his academic progress. That is between him and his tutors. You will only know what he chooses to tell you, if you ask gently. The more you try to control him, the less he will tell you.

In a nutshell, the more rules you impose, the more you will push him away and the deeper into the relationship he will go.
His hormones will be very powerful at the moment and he really needs to learn through experience how to control them. No-one else can do that for him. He is making choices now that could affect his future for good or ill. You have brought him up in a close and loving family but he has to step outside of that to find his adult self. Allow him with love, to go, and he will feel he can be welcomed back any time he needs. Constantly telling him how disappointed you are in him, and how little you think of his choice of girlfriend, or of their – their – behaviour, will have such an alienating effect that he will naturally prefer to be with her much more.

Try to be kind to him and, through him, a little more generous and forgiving to her. Try a compromise.

Suggest that when he is at home, if he can be with the family, at meals especially, and really be there – which means not having his phone on the table and texting at every opportunity - that will help you all feel less rejected by him and less averse to the reason he loses attention. If he can refrain from sex with his girlfriend in your house – you know they will be doing it elsewhere - then perhaps she can visit, but not overnight, just for the occasional meal.

And here is the key compromise.

If these things happen, then you will promise not to be judgmental or controlling about his behaviour or his grades. Explain that this is because you love him and care deeply about how he manages to keep studies going. Tell him you are proud of what he has so far achieved academically and long for him to get everything he can from his college years.

It might be hard for you to hold back the threat of withdrawing funding, I know, but it is the worst thing you could do right now. He has only just started his college career. It will take time to get through the mistakes most of us make on this journey. Both of these kids are in a first important relationship. It probably won’t last but it is crucial to how they set their parameters for relationships to come.  To be so vociferously against it will guarantee your son will feel unable to come to you when it fails – when he will need your quiet comfort and support – not an “I told you so”.

This must sound like I am totally on the side of your son and his girlfriend. I am on no-one’s side, but I have sat with many troubled parents of teenagers, and with many young people who feel alienated and unwelcome in the parental home in just this situation.

I do see how difficult, worrying and upsetting this situation is for you.

We all teach our young birds to fly, but we cannot fly at their side once they leave the nest. We can only hope we have taught them well and given them enough love and guidance to know they can fly home when they need us.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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