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Among all my endeavors as a parent of teenagers, understanding their affairs of the heart has been the most baffling.

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And while parents' dating advice may seem about as welcomed by teens as the swine flu, the research suggests the opposite—that young people not only value parental input, but tend to have healthier relationships when they receive parental advice.

The studies serve as bedrock for parents in an era of dizzying changes in youthful romance.

Many adults see little that is familiar in today's teen dating relationships, which may seem to live and die entirely on Facebook, or through texting, sexting or—to parents' dismay—casual "hookups," or brief sexual liaisons.

"It is an area where parents aren't quite sure what to do," says Stephanie Madsen, an associate professor of psychology at Mc Daniel College, Westminster, Md.

Now, emerging research "can offer some solid information on what is helpful, and what's not." Young people whose parents make themselves available to talk with them or give advice about dating tend to have warmer, closer, more positive romantic relationships, with less fighting and tension, reveals a study by Dr.

Madsen and others of 225 young adults ages 22 to 29.

If parents don't offer help, however, and keep out of offsprings' love lives altogether, that is linked in their offspring to poorer-quality relationships, including less affection and support and more conflict.

Young people like it best when parents take a consulting or coaching role, listening—and offering advice only when asked, Dr. When Jim Garrett's son, a college student, came to him last summer to say he was considering breaking up with his girlfriend, "I mostly just listened and asked a few questions so I would understand," says Mr. "But I agreed with his decision to break up." Soon, in what Mr.

Garrett regarded as a sign of maturity, his son ended the relationship, and took up with another girl—one whom Mr. Even when parents think a relationship is unhealthy, it is best to avoid handing down judgments or giving orders; young people may regard that as encroaching on their independence.

Rather than saying, "you have to break up with this person," try reflecting on "what you're seeing that seems unhealthy, or that worries you," Dr. In talking with her three children about romantic matters, Paula Thomas, Murfreesboro, Tenn., has found that "how well the message is heard greatly depends on how I deliver it.

If I speak 'off the cuff' or in anger, my children aren't apt to listen. But if she uses restraint, speaking up only about serious issues, then simply expresses concern, saying, "Here's what I see," her children tend to heed her advice.

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