February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. In the previous blog post, we shared with you some statistics on teen dating violence and offered some encouragement for what to do if you suspect or know that your teen is experiencing dating violence. We also shared some proactive things you can do before your teen becomes involved in dating relationships. In this blog, we will dig deeper into things you can do to encourage healthy relationships with your teen.

Relationships can be challenging, for all of us. And while they are deeply rewarding and meaningful, all of know that they are not “perfect”. Some of you grew up in homes where domestic violence or child abuse was prevalent, or have experienced intimate partner violence as an adult. Perhaps you are in this situation now. Maybe you grew up in families where talking about feelings and needs wasn’t allowed or nurtured. Even if you have had safe and supportive upbringings and relationships, relationships can get messy. Sometimes they don’t work out – sometimes people struggle with addictions or mental illness – or simply have hard days. People have outside stresses, such as aging parents or financial concerns. All of these things can effect even the best of relationships. 

The point is, this is what it means to be human. We each have a story and experiences we bring to parenting. And that’s okay! This is about being wherever you are on your journey, and doing what you can to each day to show up for your teen.

 

Here are some things YOU CAN DO to support your teen in developing healthy relationships:

    • BE HONEST: About your story – your family of origin – your past relationships. As you continue to do your own healing, you can more fully show up for your teen. It is through healing past hurts that we can break these patterns in the present. Remember to seek support if you need it.
    • BE HONEST: With yourself about your current intimate relationship. Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge what’s really going on in our own relationships. Are there things that aren’t working? Do you need to have some conversations with partner about things that need to change? Do you feel respected and cared for? 
      • When we are real about our own lives, we foster openness and realness with our teen. And when we make changes we need to make in a relationship, we show our teen how to do the same.
    • BE HONEST: About dynamics in your family that are hard to talk about. The truth is, people get sad, grumpy, upset, agitated, etc. Sometimes, people overdrink, or say something less than kind, or struggle with mental health challenges. The list of things that happen in our families goes on and on.
      • While there is no handbook for how to handle these “less-than-perfect” situations, it’s important that we not pretend like everything is okay. This teaches our teens that when something happens, if someone is struggling, or is something’s “off”, to just ignore it. Acknowledge what’s real. Most of the time, our teen already knows. But naming it, giving our teens the space to talk about it, and taking steps to make things better, teaches our teens how to have healthy relationships. It shows them that it’s okay to face hard things, and that pretending things are okay when they are not is never the solution. 
    • APOLOGIZE: When you have done something that has been hurtful. Be quick to apologize. Every time you do this, you are modeling to your teen that healthy relationship means being willing to apologize.
    • REPAIR: When something has happened, such as an argument. Don’t just “move on” and not talk about it. Check in to see how they are doing, and how to make things better. Repairing after a conflict is an important aspect of healthy relationships.
    • REMIND THEM: That healthy relationships are not what they see on TV or social media. That is a snapshot of the best moments of someone’s life, or is entirely scripted! Teens can tend to believe that these things are “real life”.
    • SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE: Talk to your teen about what your values are, for yourself and for them, when it comes to relationships. What have you learned? How have you grown? 
    • TALK ABOUT SEX: Even though this can feel out of your comfort zone. You may have a belief system or just a comfort level that keeps you from talking about this. But the reality is, whether you want to admit it or not, this is what most teens think about and begin to engage in. They need you as a safe space to discuss what having a healthy sexual relationship means.
    • LOOK FOR TEACHABLE MOMENTS: When watching TV or through stories you have heard. Use these moments as an open door to talk about healthy relationships. 
    • REMEMBER: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT: Don’t get caught in the past, or in feeling like you haven’t been a good role model. Be honest about ways that your choices may have caused harm and talk to them about it. Owning your shortcomings can go such a long way in teaching your teen about healthy relationships. You are modeling this for them in real time!
  • REMEMBER: To do what you can today to be there for your teen. How can you model self-love today? How can you open up communication with them today? How can you show them how much you love them today? Just take it one day at a time.

Here are some things YOU CAN ASK your teen if the are in a relationship. These questions can help them to assess if their relationship feels healthy to them:

  • Do you have trust in this relationship? What does this mean to you?
  • Do you feel safe?
  • Can you communicate openly and freely (are you relaxed)?
  • Do you feel listened to and that your needs matter?
  • Do you feel mutual respect exits in the relationship?
  • Is there respect around your physical/sexual relationship?
  • Can you both acknowledge when one of you makes a mistake or is in the wrong?
  • Can you both forgive one another? What does this look like?
  • Do you honor each other’s boundaries? 
  • Do you feel free to be autonomous and do things independently? 
  • Is this a “no eggshell” relationship? Meaning, you don’t have fear of saying or doing something that will set them off?
  • Do you feel good about being in relationship with this person?

As you parent your teen and navigate the ups and downs of doing so, be gentle with yourself. Remember that you are probably doing the best you can with the information you have. You are a human being with a unique story. Do your best each day to be honest, accountable, to do your own personal healing work, and to show up for your teen with openness. 

We are here to support you. If you have a teen who is experiencing dating violence, or if you or your teen need support around developing healthy relationships, we have coaches to walk with you. You don’t have to do this alone.

Written by: Jessica Mitchell, MS, Marriage and Family Therapy/Life Coach