Talking to Your Teen about Healthy Dating Habits and Relationships
Remember what it was like dating as a teen? From working up the nerve to ask and the anticipation of an answer to figuring out where to go, just the thought of going back to that time makes me break into a sweat. At that time, I wasn’t thinking about much more than what to wear or how I could get my parents to extend my curfew.
As parents, we may forget that our kids have so many more factors to consider. Peer pressure extends to social media. Phones make every moment photographable and shareable. We talk to our kids about making good decisions, but what happens if they get into a situation beyond their control, or become involved with a partner who oversteps personal and physical boundaries?
We may think our children could never be victims of abusive or controlling partners. After all, we would know, or our children would tell us. But, according to DoSomething.org, one in three young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. That means 33% of American teens will experience physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse from the person they are dating. As parents, it’s important to talk with our kids and teach them the tools they need to keep themselves and their friends safe.
Start an open and honest dialogue with your kids
We’ve all had “the talk” with our kids, but it’s equally important to listen. Ask your kids what they want in a dating relationship and how they want to be treated by the person they date. Together, talk through different scenarios (both positive and negative), and help your teen find the words they need to establish safe boundaries, and the actions they should take if those boundaries are not respected.
Talk to your teen about setting boundaries
Whether they talk to you or their friends, it’s important that they understand that healthy relationships are built on respect. Boundaries will vary based on each person’s comfort level, but they should be clearly defined in three areas:
- Emotional: Ask your teen how much emotional energy they are willing to share, how much alone time they need and how much personal information they want to share with the person they date.
- Physical: This can be a tricky one. Make sure your teen thinks about how much personal space they need, as well as the amount of physical intimacy they are comfortable with — from hand holding to sexual activity.
- Digital: This may be the most difficult to track. Each parent needs to make their own determination about parental controls and social media boundaries. Remind your teen that once something is shared on social media, it’s out there and can’t be deleted.
Learn to recognize some warning signs of trouble
As parents, we can observe our own children, but we don’t see how they act with their partner in private. Make sure your teen knows that these behaviors, exhibited by themselves or their partner, are not OK:
- Excessive jealousy or insecurity
- Explosive temper or anger
- Always blaming the partner for problems in the relationship
- False accusations of spying or cheating
- Bullying or threatening behavior
- Constantly monitoring partner’s social media or whereabouts
- Preventing the partner from talking or going out with certain people
Don’t be afraid to share your concerns
As parents, we would not sit back and let our kids continue in unhealthy relationships. It’s equally important that our kids understand how to safely intervene if they feel they, or a friend, are in an unsafe relationship. Remind your teen that there are ways to get help or support, such as:
- Talking to a trusted friend, teacher or parent
- Spending time with friends or loved ones (other than the partner)
- Reaching out to a school guidance counselor
- Calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233)
What is a “healthy” relationship?
Relationships are unique to the people in them. However, there are some commonalities that should be present in every relationship, such as:
- Telling the truth
- Compromising when differences arise
- Valuing family, friends and self
- Honoring opinions, emotions and boundaries
- Listening and accepting that no means no
- Showing mutual respect
Take the time to talk to your teen about healthy dating habits. Make sure they understand how to set and communicate boundaries with their significant other. Most of all, let them know that you are always there to help, advocate and support them.
If you suspect your teen or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at the hotline.org or call at 800-799-SAFE (7233).
SAFY works to strengthen families and communities through therapeutic foster care, behavioral health services, family preservation, older youth services and adoption/post-adoption services in Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina.