Double Take: Teen couple complicate lives with joint assets

Wes: For several years I’ve seen a growing trend that is extraordinarily unwise among teen couples — joining and attaining assets. Kids seem to essentially move into each other’s homes now, leaving behind clothes, keepsakes, notebooks, iPods, and other items of personal or economic worth. Then when the inevitable breakup comes, families have to go through some of the same machinations they would if their children were getting divorced. I’ve even seen law enforcement getting involved in civil standbys for property exchange.

Getting a few sweatshirts back and forth, or exchanging iPods, is a tolerable price to pay for teen romance, especially if both sets of parents are sensible people and don’t need the cops involved. But the two areas that really bother me are phone contracts and the pets. The cell phone situation is worst among newly minted 18-year-olds, who take it upon themselves to share their majority with younger dating partners by getting a “family” phone plan. In other inexplicable cases, families actually sign the girl- or boyfriend into their plans. I have one word of advice on this topic: Don’t. Make no co-signatures on legal documents, nor allow your minor children to do so, with any of their romantic partners. This goes for college-age kids, too. Unless you are living together and functioning as a common-law marriage, there is nothing but heartache and expense for phone contracts, car payments or other joint assets. And if you move ahead against my advice, be certain you have an escape plan in writing with your partner. Think of it as a “prenuptial” agreement for dating partners.

The other agreement that frustrates me is the epidemic of teen couples getting joint pets. My words of advice here: Double-don’t with sugar on top. Just as a baby is ill-served by having very young parents (see the statistics), no pet is well-served by being in the middle of a teen romance. Statistically, there is nearly a 100 percent chance a teen couple will dissolve, leaving the partners in what amounts to a pet custody battle or worse, one stuck with all the expenses of ownership and no hope of “pet support.” Moreover, before any teen takes on a pet of his or her own, a full accounting of future costs should be made. I once spent $1,200 on my cat’s thyroid. No, seriously. And just try to tell a sobbing young person they can’t afford to keep their dog alive because they have to pay their freshman semester tuition. And as if that weren’t bad enough, many young people either forfeit the chance to be in a sorority or live in the dorms, or pay expensive pet deposits; or leave their pet at home for college in the care of the parent. If parents are OK with that, fine. But too often teens don’t think ahead on situations like this, and it’s important for the parent to do so for them.

I think it’s nice that young couples want to share the intimacy of owning a pet or join their resources for a common good. That doesn’t make it a practical idea, and parents should do everything they can to inhibit kids from creating little marriages out of perfectly good teen love affairs.

Ben: I’ve been asked why I think people shouldn’t break up through text. One of my big reasons is that it leaves something behind. Many of my friends who have been dumped in that way know the wording of the text by heart and admit to reading it multiple times. If you can use a text to relive a break-up again and again, how much worse it must be to come home to an apartment you shared with your ex? Or worse, one you still share, because you can’t get out of the lease. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but this is a serious issue to consider before you and your sweetheart go out and rent a place.

Whenever you make something dependent on your dating relationship, whether a phone, a pet or an apartment, you’re building a house on a fault line. A couple can be split; a pet can’t. It’s a monkey wrench like no other when two people are trying to make a clean break, and it only agitates a messy one. There’s enough emotional rubble to sift through without fighting over who gets the dog.

Wes is right, even leaving potential consequences aside; dating is not a time to play marriage. One of its great benefits is that it allows partners to get to know each other without having to deal with the responsibilities of married couples. While it’s great to strive for a deeper commitment, you don’t need to step into pseudo-marriage territory to do that.

Next week: My child wants off her high school IEP.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Ben Markley is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


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