PDA: How Affectionate is Too Affectionate?
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PDA: How Affectionate is Too Affectionate?

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PDA:How Affectionate is Too Affectionate?

by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC

Teens are advertising their relationships out in public all the time. Go to Facebook or MySpace and you can see whom they are dating, whom they formerly dated, and basically everything they have done in the past month. It’s scary, especially if that teen happens to be yours. Even when your child goes to college, she will show her personal life to everyone she accepts as her friend through these internet sites.

Personally, I like my privacy and I’m not comfortable with discussing my relationship status, what I am doing at this minute, or what I did last night with all of my "new friends." My view is not shared among most teens, though. Their relationship status is not only online; it’s also physically acted out in public with their boyfriends and girlfriends. It’s called PDA or “public display of affection.” The schools are tiptoeing around the topic but they, too, are uncomfortable with how much is too much.

Whenever I go to Italy or Spain, I love to watch mothers and daughters walking down the street arm in arm. I also love to see men in a warm embrace and kissing each other as a greeting. It seems right to me. Whether it’s because I’m Italian or just very demonstrative, I believe hugging and kissing are more important than guns and bombs.

However, seeing two teens groping each other in the school hall or at my friend's home makes me feel uncomfortable. My discomfort comes from a feeling that the teens are not respecting themselves, their parents, the school rules or anyone who is in the room. I am all for passion, but I believe there is a time and place for everything. PDA in front of others is neither the time nor the place.

As children grow they learn by trying new things. Their parents guide them and direct them, and then they develop a sense of right or wrong with regard to individual behaviors. A parent would tell her daughter to wipe her face if she had chocolate on it; she would tell her daughter it was inappropriate to talk with her mouth full. But when her boyfriend comes over and starts kissing her, or pulls her onto his lap, she freezes and doesn’t know what to say.

A Quick Guide on What to Say to Too Much PDA

1. Talk to your teen when you’re alone with her. She may be angry or embarrassed, but don't let that stop you from saying this: "Your father and I (or 'your mother and I') are not okay with you hanging all over/kissing/sitting on top of your boyfriend/girlfriend. We believe it is disrespectful and we don't approve of it. We do not think it is appropriate at school, either. We can see you really care for (whatever his/her name is) and we think he/she is a nice boy/girl, but we are concerned that your behavior may influence our respect for him/her also."

2. Do tell your teen what is appropriate behavior in your home.As a parent you may say, "We think holding hands, a quick kiss or an affectionate hug is okay." Then talk with your teen about ways she can express her affection besides the ways she currently is (such as deep kisses and hands all over each other). Teens will talk to you if you ask questions that encourage them to think. This also helps the teen understand that you are trying to help and that you are not being judgmental or critical.

Schools cannot be held accountable to raise your children and teach them at the same time. Parents need to guide their children by making the tough calls and following through. Your kids are watching you all of the time. As our children grow up, we think they don't notice anything but their friends. It’s time to wake up. You’re still their most important mentor. Talk to your kids, listen to your kids, discipline and respect your kids. It’s time to talk to them directly and openly about PDA.

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.


Start Talking features succinct yet lively answers, sample conversations, and real life stories to help open the door to better mother/daughter communication. Rapini and Sherman have compiled more than 113 questions girls (and their moms) routinely ask – or should be asking – about health, sex, body image, and dating.