Learning how to develop healthy relationships begins early in life. As teens begin to date and develop relationships, they may encounter situations they do not know how to handle.
Sexual violence and abuse are common in relationships among teens. Approximately one in three high school students will be involved in abusive relationships.
Middle school students who report bullying a classmate admit to being the victim of dating abuse. Teenagers who have experienced physical abuse or sexual abuse contemplate suicide.
Set a Foundation of Open and Honest Communication With Your Child
Parents of teens have a difficult challenge. They need to give their teens room to grow and experience relationships. They also need to help them set healthy boundaries to protect themselves from harm.
Open communication between parents and teens is crucial. If your teen does not believe they can tell you anything, you may never know if your teen becomes involved in an abusive relationship. Therefore, begin discussing healthy relationships at a young age.
Most parents do not worry about crushes in elementary school or middle school, especially when their child cannot date yet. However, now is the time you want to begin discussing relationships with your child. Your child might not go out on dates, but they may be engaging in dating behaviors at school and online.
Having age-appropriate discussions about romantic relationships sets the foundation for continued communication throughout the teen years. Remember, these matters are serious to your child. Do not make light of the relationship or tease your child about having a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Instead, take time to learn about the person your child is developing a relationship with and the details of the relationship. Begin discussing warning signs that a relationship might be harmful in age-appropriate language.
As your child becomes a teen, your conversations mature. You may include topics related to sexual relationships, physical abuse, peer pressure, and emotional abuse.
Setting Boundaries for Teen Relationships
Teaching your teen to set healthy boundaries for their dating relationships needs to include discussions about physical boundaries. However, you need to address emotional boundaries and digital boundaries too. Teens face many more challenges when developing dating relationships because of the digital world we live in today.
Setting Physical Boundaries
Physical boundaries are usually the easiest subject to tackle with a teen. Physical boundaries cover everything from holding hands and kissing to sexual intercourse.
A teen needs to understand that they are in control of their body. Being in a relationship does not give the other person the right to pressure or force you to do anything you do not want to do. If your partner pressures you to engage in sexual acts when you say no, it is a sign that you are not in a healthy relationship.
The topic of sexual activity can be embarrassing for a teen. Talking about sex with a parent can make a teen uncomfortable. You may want to consider going to a counselor who can facilitate discussions with your teen about healthy physical boundaries.
Setting Emotional Boundaries
Discussing emotional boundaries in a relationship is equally important. You need to discuss what it means to be verbally and emotionally abused by a partner. Go over the warning signs of emotional abuse and make sure your teen knows to come to you if they experience any form of emotional abuse.
It is also important to discuss when it is appropriate to share personal information with someone you are interested in dating. Developing an emotional relationship includes sharing personal information. However, it also means developing trust and respect so that you can communicate how you expect to be treated.
Setting Digital Boundaries
Parents must also be aware that their teens’ relationships have a digital component. Sending pictures, texting, emails, social media posts, sexting, and video calls must be addressed when discussing healthy boundaries for a relationship.
Setting digital boundaries must include a discussion of the dangers of sending illicit pictures or making illicit videos. It should also include the need to have space. A dating partner should not expect you to respond immediately to every text, message, or call.
Respecting the other person’s privacy is another digital boundary. Do not search a person’s cell phone or other electronics without permission.
Healthy Relationships Are Based on Firm Boundaries, Trust, & Respect
Entering an emotional relationship is exciting. However, there must be boundaries based on mutual respect, honesty, and trust. Teaching your teen that these qualities are the foundation of a healthy relationship helps them understand how to set boundaries.
When setting boundaries, the boundaries should remain firm. If the other person does not respect those boundaries, it is a warning sign that this might not be a healthy relationship.
Ensure that your teen understands the difference between compromising about what movie to see or where to eat and not allowing a partner to pressure or force them to compromise their boundaries. Review the signs of teen dating violence frequently as your teen begins developing romantic relationships.