So much of what teens and young adults understand about relationships often stems from how they were raised and the experiences they were exposed to growing up. School curriculums touch on sexual education, but rarely is the education system teaching healthy relationships to young people.
College years bring one new experience after another that shape their identity as an adult. Meeting new people from different backgrounds, dating in college, and falling in love for the first time is a part of the college experience. As is developing the fundamentals of healthy relationships, how to establish and maintain self-worth, and learning to recognize the early signs of unhealthy relationships.
This article is about how to talk to your child about healthy relationships, so that whether they are at home, away in college, or grown past college, they will have strong guidance in their arsenal of tools to address life and relationship challenges.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Healthy Relationships
#1 Create a safe space between you and your teen
Many parents set ground rules for teenage dating without first establishing a safe space for the teen to have open conversation with their parents. Let your teen know they can tell you anything, that you won’t be mad at them for bringing issues to you, and that you’ll always support them. Having a safe and open dialogue with your teen means no matter how much distance is between you they can turn to you for reassurance, support and love.
#2 Explain what defines a healthy relationship
Not all parents have healthy relationships to model for their children, but all parents can explain to their children what healthy should look like. If your relationship hasn’t been the best, be open with your child about those experiences so they can recognize those, what you learned, and how you would have done it differently. Parents often feel like shielding children from the harsh truth, but your child is on their way to adulthood, and using your mishaps as teaching moments could make the difference in your child not repeating them.
#3 Explain what a healthy relationship is not
Specifically describe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Openly discuss warning signs and why these behaviors are unacceptable. If you want your teen to notice warning signs and question problematic behavior, help them recognize what to look for before it happens to them. Use abusive characters in tv shows and movies and pop culture news as a segway into deeper conversations and realities of relationship abuse.
#4 Talk about sex
Sex can be used as power, and year after year history repeats itself on high school and colleges across the country. Talk to your child about what to expect with sex in high school and college, including both healthy and unhealthy sexual encounters. Your openness and communication will help them build self-confidence, respect their bodies, set personal boundaries, and teach them to elicit respect from others.
#5 Give them tools to face the worst
Talk to your teen about what to do if they find themselves or a friend in an abusive relationship. Talk about some common responses to relationship abuse – like fear of leaving, lowered self-worth, isolation from family and friends – and openly discuss the resources available to them on campus, through the police and with you, as the parent.
Talking to your teen about healthy relationships is vital in preparing them to handle situations on their own. Even if it seems your teen isn’t listening, they will pick up on your messages about sex, love, dating, and relationships. And remember, it’s a learning process for everyone – navigating through dating in young adulthood is an ongoing learning experience for both the parent and the child.
Continue to learn with a healthy relationship workshop can teach you and your child more about warning signs of unhealthy relationships, fostering self worth and boundaries, and creating a safe space of openness to intervene in an abusive relationship should it occur. We have online and in-person workshops targeted for parents and college students that can help you build these skills and more.
If you’d like to register, or learn more, please get in touch with us today. We’re here to help make a difference.