Teaching Teens About Healthy Relationships

September 13, 2021

Teaching Teens About Healthy Relationships

This past year halted many things, but it didn’t stop teenagers from growing up. Even if it was only online, teens were still able to interact with different friends, teachers and possibly the person they “like” at the time. Healthy, mature relationships are one of the most difficult concepts for teens to learn in the best of circumstances. Now that society is opening more, teens will have to quickly learn more about in person relationships.

It won’t be easy. Teens are dealing with raging hormones, developing romantic feelings, a desire to be independent and more. Calling this chapter of parenthood “challenging” is a gross understatement. Communication with some teens can seem like a minefield. Advice can be unwanted. Figuring out when to enforce rules and when to let go is tough. Trying to talk about dating, sex and especially discussing healthy and abusive relationships can feel like an impossible task. Yet, it’s an incredibly important conversation to have. According to national statistics:

  • Women between the ages of 16-24 are three times more likely to experience relationship violence than the national average.
  • 1 out of 3 teens has been a victim of an abusive dating relationship.
  • 1 out of 5 teens have reported being bullied or have bullied someone else.
  • 4 out of 5 teens have experienced sexual harassment (unwanted comments or touching).
  • 1 in 4 teen girls say they have had to endure repeated verbal abuse during a relationship.

Parents can’t always be there for their children’s get togethers, parties and dates. The conversations parents have with their teens beforehand must teach them what a healthy relationship is and what it isn’t. Then they can understand how to interact with others.

Communication with your teen

As JF&CS Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Rebecca Brown puts it, “Communication is key. Check your judgement at the door. A conversation about relationships and dating is crucial. Parents need to listen as well as talk.” Rebecca recommends setting a time when you’ll have privacy, without any outside disruptions. Then begin with questions (but avoid judge-y “why” questions that might put a teen on the defensive).

“Start with asking them how they’re doing? How are their friends and other relationships going,” says Rebecca. “Then ask if they understand what makes a relationship healthy or abusive. Let them give examples. They may know someone in an abusive relationship. If so, do they know what to do about it. If the teen feels that they’re in an abusive relationship, do they know what to do?” By having them do more of the talking, teens are more engaged than if an adult monopolizes the time. Parents are recommended to show their teen support so they can feel that the parent is approachable and not judging them.

How to show your teen support

Parents should look for a common denominator between themselves and their teen. If a parent can find thoughts, wants, or desires they both agree on, they can show support. Parents should allow as much creativity and flexibility when the choices and outcomes aren’t dangerous. Then, when a teen engages in something that is unhealthy, it will mean more when a parent objects.

Parents should respect their teen’s choices whenever possible. They get to pick their friends, influencers, and romantic interests. If a parent doesn’t like who the teen chooses, they should state their opinion as calmly as possible and listen to the teen’s opinion. A parent should also use sentences starting in “I” rather than “You.” For instance: “I’m afraid that your friends are going to pressure you into something illegal” sounds much better than, “You shouldn’t see them. You’re going to end up getting into trouble.”

Another way for parents to show support is by getting to know the teen’s closest friends and/or dating partners. Even if the parent doesn’t like them, inviting them into a family’s home increases the likelihood that the child will turn to the parent if something goes wrong. It can also be a positive influence on the friend.

Providing a framework of values

Teens say that parents just talk about the “mechanics” of procreation, contraception, and dating. This can be important information, but it’s also what they learn in health class. As Rebecca puts it, “what teens need to hear about our values and feelings. They have limited experience with romantic love. They don’t fully understand the balance between wanting to please someone and holding onto their own needs and wants.” Asking teens their opinion and following up with a discussion is a good way to teach them.

Movies, shows, YouTube and Tik Tok can seem all consuming for teens, but they can also be a great teaching tool. If families watch something together, they can talk about the relationships in the media. Parents can ask what the teen thinks about these relationships. It’s a more objective way to talk about the family’s values.

Show them instead of telling them

The most powerful way to show teens what a healthy relationship looks like is to model it for them. The ways adults interact with partners, family members, and friends influences the children in their life. The more they see abuse, the more they tend to mimic it. On the other hand, the more they see and talk about healthy relationships, the more they will imitate those interactions.

As teens grow, their choices lead them to the types of adults they choose to become. With more information, they can make better choices. It’s up to the adults in their lives to guide them so that they can hopefully have happier and healthier relationships.

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