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My Teenager Wants to Get Married! Help!

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: This week, a frantic mom called in to Ryan Seacrest's Los Angeles radio show wondering what to do about her 17-year-old daughter's ENGAGEMENT to her 17-year-old boyfriend. There's no pregnancy involved; just teenage love hormones. So, what's a mom to do?


My answer is simple: Be a parent and say no. The good news is that the law is on your side. According to my research, all but one American state requires a parent's consent for anyone under age 18 to get married. Nebraska insists that both partners be 19 to get married without parental permission. So grow a backbone, mom, and put your foot down and say NO.

Of course, we all know how teens tend to react to parental authority, so be prepared to be hated. Use the time before your kid's 18th birthday to impress upon your child the following statistics:

  •  The current median age that people get married in the U.S. is 26.7 for men and 25 for women.
  • Teen marriage has a dismal divorce rate. Approximately half of teenage marriages will end in divorce within 15 years -- and the younger the wife, the more staggering the divorce rate. Some studies show a divorce rate as high as 70 percent for girls who marry before the age of 18.
  • Teen husbands have incomes that steadily lag behind other males', even into their 20s and 30s. This could be related to the fact that they put aside educational opportunities in order to become family wage-earners in their teens.
  • Let's say that a baby comes of that teenage marriage, and then the marriage goes down the tubes. For unwed mothers of all ages, marrying and then divorcing correlates with higher rates of poverty.

For some teens, the desire for an early marriage is really a bid for autonomy. Teenagers want to be grown-up, and bolting from the nest feels very grown-up. I would suggest that these parents explore with their daughter ways that she can feel autonomous without having to marry. Does she need a bit more freedom? How about more responsibility? A part-time job and some bills to pay can sometimes be a wake-up call to a teen craving independence.

Above all, validate your teen's feelings of love and attachment. Her feelings are real, even if they are a bit premature and are prompting an unwise decision. Try welcoming her boyfriend into the family. If you exclude him and bar her from seeing him, you stand a good chance of making her run even faster into his arms. One technique for compromise might be to help your teenager plan a "down-the-road" wedding -- say, one that takes place after post-secondary education is complete.

Parenting a teen is no cakewalk. This mother's challenge is one that many parents fear. Try to remember that in terms of emotional development, teens are a lot like 2-year-olds, with one big difference: Two-year-olds are mentally ready for action before their bodies can do it safely, and this causes frustrating tantrums. Teenagers, on the other hand, are physically ready for action before their minds have caught up. But at both stages, kids secretly crave boundaries. Boundaries help children and teens feel safe, even if they cause them to feel angry as well.

What would YOU do if your teen told you he/she wanted to get married? Comment below.

next: 'Despicable Me' Fun for the Whole Family
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Samantha  July 9, 2010, 8:59 AM

teens need some kind of motivation…so i would maybe tell her to wait , and if she does wait, you’ll absolutely help pay for her wedding, and help to find them an apartment, car…and whatnot. they need to know that you approve of the person they and trust them to do the right thing. sometimes they just need incentive. tell her that there’s no reason that they can’t be together and have a beautiful wedding and marriage, but to wait a few years will benefit them in so many ways, they can both get good jobs, save a little money, get an apartment, get their finances stable and then have a much more beautiful wedding where you can all be happy and involved,.

calimommi July 9, 2010, 9:49 AM

I’d tell my teen that marriage is for grown ups. Then I’d hand them a budget worksheet and let them know that they must be responsible for themselves ~ living costs, college, insurance…. And since they are my child, they’ll know that I mean it.

renee July 9, 2010, 3:30 PM

she needs to be told that if they really want to get married they can wait til after college and be “engaged” until then. explain without a education they will only make minimum wage and that will get them nothing and u cant have a dream wedding on $7 hr. also say your not paying for any of it until after shower no dress nothing!

Angel July 10, 2010, 11:45 AM

Yes, absolute no, know some of my friend’s kids married fefore age 20, ALL divorced now.

nachturnal July 26, 2010, 5:21 AM

I don’t plan to have children, and this is one of many reasons why.

But I would tell my hypothetical child that until she and her husband-to-be can show me that they can be self-sufficient in a way that has a future (like a business owner or something, not a factory worker), she’s not getting married.

I’m also going to point out that most people don’t know who they are and what they want until they’ve had a chance to find out, and given that she’s still in school, she wouldn’t have had a chance to find herself, so to speak. Until then, marriage is not fair on any man. They could both change wildly before their 5-year anniversary.

Berenice October 12, 2010, 10:40 AM

I wouldn’t encourage them to get married, but at the same time guide them both in to understanding what getting married implies. If they belong together they will be together as long as it takes until time has really come for them to get married.

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Holly January 11, 2011, 5:22 AM

What a great opportunity!

I would totally support the kids and do everything that their marriage grows into a life-long love. They have the best start possible for a married couple, and your parenting support and attitude will make a huge difference to launching them successfully into married life and keeping them there.

Regards ‘poor performance’ — the kids are not chasing other potential partners will allow them to concentrate on education and work much better — failed love affairs are classic life wreckers.

And if it fails, well, then this is all part of life(and you just get the result that is normal for our culture, which is a string of failed loves until one works out), if you don’t try hard to find and then nurture the love of your life with 100% effort, chances are you’ll never will.

So don’t be too negative and predict doom, love is a great thing and two people committing to each other and wanting to share their life is wonderful.

Good luck!

Kobbin February 9, 2011, 1:39 AM

You shouldn’t use things people can’t change to assess who they are [age, background, race, ect.]. People are individuals, and that includes your children.
You shouldn’t see statistics as the defining prophesy for everything, either. Statistics don’t define an individual unless they’re incredibly influential. Sadly, since young people tend to be, you’re already sort of short changing them with your information. Secondly, The statistics you gave may be facts, but they aren’t entirely accurate. Mostly because they’re based off recent information. Most people got married at a young age all through the 1900’s and most stayed together until one died. It’s the people now who’ve been taught that young marriage doesn’t work, the people who have been taught that they deserve the world, the people that have been taught that love doesn’t exist, and the people that have no foresight who have contributed to your divorce statistics.
If you’re going to argue with your child, tell them they can’t take the responsibility, tell them they don’t understand love because of their hormones, then maybe they’ll doubt themselves altogether when it comes to feelings. They’ll think that they can never attain a committed relationship and that’s because people never really grow out of not understanding their thoughts and feelings. Are YOU not still trying to find yourself?
Also, on another note, I’m surprised you’re suggesting using useful information against your child, let alone a 17 year old. You should have already taught them what it’s like to pay for things, what it’s like to live on their own, how to cook for themselves, how to be independent. You should have already talked to them what it’s like to be an adult and what to expect. 17 year olds are already supposed to have experienced those responsibilities. Was it your plan to keep that information from them and then use it against them to do your will? To “wake them up” so to speak, so they won’t marry who they love? *loud sigh*

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