7 Ways to Help Your Teen Have Healthy Relationships
Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but through our Girls’ Health program here at YW Boston, conversations about love and healthy relationships happen all year round! While you probably noticed all the flowers and heart-shaped candies in preparation for last week’s celebration of love, did you also know that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month?
Dating violence is more common than most people think. In fact, one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults. The good news is that we can all take steps to support the teens in our lives. It’s up to us to support them in maintaining the safe and healthy relationships that they deserve!
In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, we want to share steps that parents and caretakers can take to do their part to prevent teen dating violence and promote healthy relationships. Remember, as a parent or caretaker: your role in helping a teen develop healthy relationships can be a really big one!
We know communication can be difficult to navigate on both ends of parent or caretaker and child relationships. It can be hard to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. If there is a teen in your life you’d like to support, we encourage you to consider these key steps:
1. Help define and Model Behaviors of Healthy Relationships
It’s never too early to get the conversation about healthy relationships started! Here are some questions you can use to break the ice:
- What do you look for in a partner?
- Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What kind of relationships would you like to see your friends in?
- Have you seen an unhealthy relationship? How did you know it was unhealthy? How did it make you feel?
Once you get the conversation going, you can use this as an opportunity to highlight elements of a healthy relationship. These elements include good communication, trust, respect, and honesty. Remember your teen is probably expecting a lecture: hearing behaviors is one thing, and seeing them is another! Modeling healthy relationship behaviors and practicing together can get teens thinking about what they need in their relationships and help them to find their voice.
2. Describe the Different Types of Abuse and Their Warning Signs
There are different types of abuse that you can help make your teen aware of. Some include: physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and digital abuse as well as stalking. Your teen may consider physical abuse, but you can push them to dig deeper and challenge them to consider all of the ways that power can work in relationships. Being prepared to talk about dating abuse can help your teen to identify patterns in their own relationship. Sometimes using examples from your own life, television, or music can be a good starting place.
3. Set Expectations and Boundaries
For any relationship, it’s great to plan expectations and boundaries ahead. This way, they don’t have to come up in an argument later on. Having open lines of communication around dating rules can help to make sure you and your teen are on the same page. This might mean setting curfews and ground rules around communication, for example.
4. Offer Your Support
As a parent or caretaker, your instinct is likely to help your child in whatever way you can. Be sure to let your child know that you are there for them. It can be helpful to hear about your own dating experiences and to be approached with supportive and non-accusatory language. In the event that your child is in an unhealthy relationship, you can remind them that it is not their fault. Many teens worry that parents or caretakers won’t believe them or understand. It’s important to meet them with understanding and patience.
5. Don’t Make Assumptions
This is a big one! You don’t want to shut your child down from the beginning. When opening the discussion about relationships with your teen, it’s important to not make assumptions! Neutral language around the gender of their partner, for example, or the nature of their relationships can help to demonstrate that you’re there to listen with genuine openness and love. It can be helpful to consider your own feelings about when people make assumptions about your life before hearing you out. It usually doesn’t feel too good!
6. Be Respectful and Intentional
If you communicate with your teen in an approachable manner that respects their feelings, then your teen will be much more likely to do the same for you. This helps to create a healthy and open line of communication between you and your child and ultimately could improve your teen’s self-esteem and increase their feelings of safety.
7. Know When to Ask for Outside Help
There is help available if you’re struggling to talk with your teen. In addition to our advice above, there are many resources available online to help you meet your teen where they are at. If your teen is experiencing an unhealthy relationship, you can also consider finding a family therapist who can help mediate and help create a plan. Know that, in the end, the decisions have to come from your teen. Most importantly: let them know you’ve got their back and that even if you can’t, you’ll find someone who can!
We know it’s no simple task, but teaching your teens about healthy relationships can be a team effort. Providing this information and support early on may even save their life someday.