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.