As your teen grows older, they will eventually begin dating for the first time. It is our job as parents to teach them about relationships. Finding a healthy first relationship is key, so that your teen will learn the relationship skills they need that will last a lifetime.
No one wants to think that their child could end up in a violent relationship, however this can happen even with teenagers. This makes talking about dating violence with your teen especially important, so that they can recognize warning signs and steer clear of potentially violent relationships. It is also important to teach them about getting out of a violent relationship if they find themselves in one.
According to Futures Without Violence,
Given that 1 in 5 high schoolers experience dating violence, you’ll want to be sure you do your part to help your child understand what a healthy relationship feels and looks like.
Talking to your teen about what to look for in a relationship is key to teaching them to set healthy boundaries, seek out mutual respect, and good communication. All of these things can help them have meaningful relationships that will be a positive experience for them.
You don't always have to sit down and have a "big talk" about relationships with your teen. It can come up naturally, if they or their friends are starting to have crushes. When they mention it, you can talk to them about what a healthy relationship looks like.
According to Youth, some important characteristics of healthy relationships are:
Mutual respect. Respect means that each person values who the other is and understands the other person’s boundaries.
Trust. Partners should place trust in each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Honesty. Honesty builds trust and strengthens the relationship.
Compromise. In a dating relationship, each partner does not always get his or her way. Each should acknowledge different points of view and be willing to give and take.
Individuality. Neither partner should have to compromise who he/she is, and his/her identity should not be based on a partner’s. Each should continue seeing his or her friends and doing the things he/she loves. Each should be supportive of his/her partner wanting to pursue new hobbies or make new friends.
Good communication. Each partner should speak honestly and openly to avoid miscommunication. If one person needs to sort out his or her feelings first, the other partner should respect those wishes and wait until he or she is ready to talk.
Anger control. We all get angry, but how we express it can affect our relationships with others. Anger can be handled in healthy ways such as taking a deep breath, counting to ten, or talking it out.
Fighting fair. Everyone argues at some point, but those who are fair, stick to the subject, and avoid insults are more likely to come up with a possible solution. Partners should take a short break away from each other if the discussion gets too heated.
Problem solving. Dating partners can learn to solve problems and identify new solutions by breaking a problem into small parts or by talking through the situation.
Understanding. Each partner should take time to understand what the other might be feeling.
Self-confidence. When dating partners have confidence in themselves, it can help their relationships with others. It shows that they are calm and comfortable enough to allow others to express their opinions without forcing their own opinions on them.
Being a role model. By embodying what respect means, partners can inspire each other, friends, and family to also behave in a respectful way.
Healthy sexual relationship. Dating partners engage in a sexual relationship that both are comfortable with, and neither partner feels pressured or forced to engage in sexual activity that is outside his or her comfort zone or without consent.
When talking with your teen, you can speak about their relationships, their friends' relationships, or your own relationships. Point out how people can best support each other in a relationship. Good relationships foster trust, communication, kindness and respect. They allow for healthy boundaries.
We all know that a new love can feel all-consuming, and your teen may want to spend all their spare time with their new partner. However, it is important to remind them that some space is healthy too. Even when you are in a relationship, it is important to retain your own hobbies, friendships and interests.
Becoming part of a couple can be exciting, but it is important not to let it overtake your whole identity. Reminding your child of this prior to them getting into a relationship can be incredibly important.
What Unhealthy Relationships Look Like
If you have been in healthy relationships yourself, you may not know what red flags to look out for. So, before you talk to your teen, it is important to educate yourself about relationship red flags. This way, you will be prepared to answer any questions that they may have when you are talking with them.
According to Parents Magazine,
It's vital that adults point out red flags to their teens when talking about relationships. It can be hard to see it in the moment, but explain to your teen that intense jealousy, passionate fighting, and love bombing—a.k.a. excessive displays of affection far too soon in a relationship—are early signs of an abusive relationship and ones our culture tends to romanticize.
Many of these red flags can pop up in a relationship with a narcissist, or another abusive partner. This type of partner often tries to isolate their partner from friends, family, and activities that they enjoy. If this starts to happen, it can be a huge red flag.
According to Youth, here are some characteristics of unhealthy relationships to teach your teen about:
Control. One dating partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, what to wear, or who to spend time with. He or she is unreasonably jealous, and/or tries to isolate the other partner from his or her friends and family.
Hostility. One dating partner picks a fight with or antagonizes the other dating partner. This may lead to one dating partner changing his or her behavior in order to avoid upsetting the other.
Dishonesty. One dating partner lies to or keeps information from the other. One dating partner steals from the other.
Disrespect. One dating partner makes fun of the opinions and interests of the other partner or destroys something that belongs to the partner.
Dependence. One dating partner feels that he or she “cannot live without” the other. He or she may threaten to do something drastic if the relationship ends.
Intimidation. One dating partner tries to control aspects of the other's life by making the other partner fearful or timid. One dating partner may attempt to keep his or her partner from friends and family or threaten violence or a break-up.
Physical violence. One partner uses force to get his or her way (such as hitting, slapping, grabbing, or shoving).
Sexual violence. One dating partner pressures or forces the other into sexual activity against his or her will or without consent.
Talking to your teen about these characteristics of unhealthy relationships can point them in the right direction as to whether their relationships are having a positive or negative effect on their life. A relationship should always add something to your life, vs. taking things away.
Maintain Open Communication
As your teen matures and begins to do more and more on their own, make sure you let them know you are always available to talk things through. As my daughter got into high school and beyond, I let her know I was always available to talk about whatever was on her mind. Doing this helps to maintain open communication.
Show your teen that you are worthy of their trust. You can do this by staying calm and collected, no matter what they tell you. If you get upset, or attempt to punish them for coming to you with issues that they are facing, they will be less likely to come to you in the future.
Learn to listen better so your teen will talk to you. Listening is a crucial skill that we need to develop as parents. More and more as our teens get older, they will want a listening ear, more than they want us to present them with solutions. If they want to solve things on their own, you can help to be a sounding board for them.
Being the trusted adult in our teen's lives can help them open up to us about their relationships. This in turn can help us to watch for red flags ourselves, and protect them from potential disaster. Even if you do see red flags, make sure to tell them in a gentle and non-judgmental manner, so that they will keep talking.
Resources for Teen Dating Violence
In addition to teaching your teen about dating violence, you can provide them with resources if they are in an abusive relationship, or if one of their friends is.
According to the National Safe Space, a great resource is Love is Respect, which is teen-focused.
Text: Loveis to 22522
Chat online: Visit www.loveisrespect.org and click “Chat Online Now”
Additional resources include:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/dating-violence
Do Something: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-teen-dating-violence
National Institute of Justice: https://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/intimate-partner-violence/teen-dating-violence/pages/welcome.aspx
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/
All of these resources can be helpful for you to check out as well, so that you can have informed conversations with your teen about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. The more informed we are as parents, the better prepared we will be to have these difficult conversations with our teens.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Read more: