Keeping an open dialogue with your teens about dating and relationships
There’s no right or wrong way of having these sensitive conversations about your teen’s first love and teenage dating. The important thing is ensuring that your teen understands beyond the hot and heavy moments and romantic side lies boundaries that could affect his or her social, emotional, and physical health. If you have to narrow the conversation down, be sure to talk about the grey area that covers what I call the “talking pieces.”
Teenage love and dating are more than just setting ground rules and creating firm boundaries for your teenage sons and daughters. Too often, I hear from parents the age-old, “but I spoke to him about being careful”, or “she knows if she’s not comfortable, to get out.” The truth is, both teenage girls and boys often just know the basics: Be safe, use protection, make good choices. Beyond the words, what exactly about those phrases really resonates with them?
I don’t know any parent who doesn’t remember their first love, or perhaps what it was like dating the wrong person. There’s no set rules for teenage romance, but the lost art of communicating about this powerful experience can actually be life-changing for your sons and daughters.
It’s common for teens to feel awkward talking with you about dating. They may also feel that they’re too cool to share their feelings with you, but helping them navigate matters of the heart can actually pave the way for how they’re affected as they enter or dismiss relationships during their adulthood.
Be cautious when starting to talk with your teens. The last thing they want is to feel like they’re being lectured by you. In this case, you can just toss the whole idea out the window. They’ll tune you out, or give the occasional eye roll, waiting for the lecture to be done and over with. Ask yourself first, if this was you as a teen, would you want to be interrogated by your parent? No doubt, when it comes to teen dating and romance, it may be helpful for you to sift through the talking pieces that I share. Discussions, not rules, should be an open door to your own relationship with your son or daughter. If you keep this in mind, it’ll be easier for the two of you, and most likely, it will go in a positive direction. Be sure to not do all the talking either as the parent. Leave space for your teen to share before he or she feels shut down by you.
An example of asking an open-ended question could start out as “how do you feel about this person”? Remember, it’s the NOT talking that you have to worry about – if these conversations are swept under the rug, or considered taboo, don’t expect your son or daughter to feel safe and comfortable with your discussions at any other future point in your relationship.
We live in a highly sexualized culture, where pre-teens and teens are exposed to pornography, as early as 10 years old. Because of access to the internet and phone apps, teens basically walk around with porn in their pockets. Talking with your kids doesn’t mean having one or two conversations about the birds and the bees. It’s the ongoing talks that promote safety – helping your teens realize the damage that pornography has on children and teens.
Simple “Talking Pieces”
Teach your teens the difference between verbal & non-verbal communication, social cues, body language of the girlfriend or boyfriend, what feeling uncomfortable and unsafe means
Describe what mutually respectful relationships consist of. Respect is always non-negotiable in any relationship, no matter how upset or angry each person is
Talk about being involved in troubled, abusive or toxic relationships, feeling trapped & what that means
Know the red flags and signs of obsessing over the girlfriend or boyfriend
Ask them what they know about self-destructive behavior, I.e. sabotaging relationships, over-compensating for fear of ruining the relationship, negative talk, blaming
Maintaining healthy dating also means spending time with other friends outside of the relationship, where other friends don’t feel abandoned
Feeling threatened (“if you don’t do this (sexual act) for me, you don’t care about me”)
Adhere to the No Secrets policy (when it comes to safe sex, precautions are talked about beforehand, rather than impulsively or in the moment)
There’s no such thing as being invincible as a teen, I.e. “that won’t happen to me”
Supporting your teens means understanding the adolescent brain. You don’t have to be a doctor or therapist to be a good parent or do extensive research. You have to be willing to help your adolescents express their feelings. It’s about being open, aware, helpful, and being able to have those teachable moments as a parent.