In honor of February being Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, it seems like a good time to shed light on the issue of teen dating relationships. It’s a startling reality that 1 out of 3 adolescents will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from a dating partner, and only one-third of them will tell someone else about it. Many times, they themselves don’t realize that it’s a problem. Enduring dating violence at such a young age puts teens at risk for later developing mental health or substance abuse problems, and makes them more likely to experience domestic violence again in the future.
For these reasons, it’s highly important that parents openly discuss the concept of healthy and unhealthy relationships with their teenagers and help them understand what warning signs to watch for. Here are some suggestions to help get you started:
Have An Ongoing Conversation.
There’s no need for a formal sit-down lecture. Take advantage of opportunities as they naturally come up. Point out examples of both healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors you see in television, movies, and even your own past. It’s ideal to have both parents present for these talks, if possible.
Give Your Child Room To Share Their Own Opinions And Beliefs About Dating.
It will be more meaningful to them if they feel part of the conversation. Coming across as a lecturer will make them less likely to seek your advice and support in the future. Some talking points to consider:
- What would you want in a partner? What are your “deal-breakers”?
- Have you witnessed any unhealthy relationships among your friends or classmates? What did you see that you thought was unhealthy?
- What do you think makes up a healthy relationship?
- How would you know if you were in an unsafe relationship? How do you think you would feel? What would you do?
- What have you liked/disliked about previous partners or relationships?
Reinforce That Dating Should Be Fun.
While it’s perfectly normal (and healthy) to have disagreements with one’s partner, they should definitely be balanced with fun and uplifting times. The relationship should never make your child question their worth as a person.
Talk Realistically About Sex.
Delineate both the pros and cons, and again, allow your teen to give their input. Yes, the conversation can be awkward, but sex is a frequent component of romantic relationships, and the topic should not be ignored. Remember to discuss responsibilities and the importance of respect – for both parties.
Emphasize Their Right To Say No To Anything They Feel Uncomfortable With.
Keep It Cool.
When there are differing viewpoints on a controversial topic, the discussion could start to get heated. If you can see that your teen is becoming frustrated and reacting defensively, back off. You want to be seen as a source of understanding, and they won’t engage with you if their walls are up. Try it again another time.
Discuss Red Flags.
Talk about the signs of an unhealthy relationship with your teen. Emphasize that they can always come to you to talk things through, and reassure them that you’ll listen and respect their choices. Red flags:
- Your partner constantly wants to know where you are and who you’re with
- They try to keep you from spending time with friends and family
- The person treats other people or animals with disrespect or cruelty
- They blame you for relationship conflicts
- They tell you how to dress or behave or how to spend your time
- Your partner puts you down a lot, even in a “joking” way
- The person harasses you to do things that you feel uncomfortable with
Provide Useful Resources.
Love is Respect offers a wealth of information for both parents and teens, including quizzes to help your child determine whether their relationship is healthy and affirming.
Above all else, it’s MOST important for you to listen and provide understanding in these conversations. Your teen will get more out of the connection with you than they will from a particular piece of wisdom or statistic. Remember, teenagers will not respect adults’ ideas and viewpoints unless they feel we respect theirs.
If you suspect that your teen may be in an unhealthy relationship, visit Love is Respect to find tips for helping your teen, or make an appointment with a knowledgeable therapist at Austin Family Counseling. For safety-planning, information, and support, The National Domestic Violence hotline is also a helpful resource.