By Javiette Grant, HRI Program Specialist
The start of new relationships can be exciting for teens, but it can be nerve-racking just thinking about having deep conversations with your teen, especially if you don’t quite know how to get those conversations started. These relationships they are building can help form their identity, offer a network of support, and is a pivotal part of the adolescent years. However, sometimes relationships can bring disappointment, conflict, and even abuse. Relationships take time, energy, and care to keep healthy. Teaching teens about healthy relationships is a good step to prepare them for the future.
Set aside time so that conversations don’t feel rushed. Be sure to minimize distractions during that time so you can focus on the conversation and your teen. Try to have your conversations in places that are comfortable for everyone. Some teens may feel more comfortable talking alone or in private, whereas other members may feel more comfortable talking in public places. The more everyone feels comfortable, wherever you are, the easier it will be to focus on the conversation and each other.
Start by discussing with your teen what a healthy relationship looks like to them, ask what makes them feel safe and happy with the people in their life. Healthy relationships are characterized by respect, sharing and trust. They are based on the belief that both people are equal and are willing to compromise so that the relationship is fair. Support, Honesty, Independence, and Communication are some of the other core characteristics of a healthy relationship. Going over these characteristics can help provide examples of what they can look for in the connections and partnerships they make.
Knowing the characteristics of an unhealthy relationship is just as important. Sometimes unhealthy relationships develop and your teen or someone they know can experience distress such as bullying or dating violence. One of the more familiar characteristics during the adolescent years is peer pressure; This is the influence a person or group can have on an individual. However, there are more toxic behaviors that teens should be on the lookout for such as: emotional abuse, intimidation, threats, minimizing/denying/or blaming, sexual coercion, and isolation.
Inform your teen that no one has the right to put them down or make them feel bad about themselves. If someone tries to intimidate or threaten them they should let someone know. Sometimes adolescents who are viewed as popular or more well-known may try to use their social status as a reason to have power and control over others by acting like “the master of the castle”, making all the decisions, or treating others like servants. It’s important that your teen knows that everyone is equal and should be treated as such. Teens may view this behavior jokingly but making light of these behaviors or shifting the responsibility is an effort to have power and gain control, which is at the center of an unhealthy relationship.
Dating Violence is so prevalent that going over the warning signs of abuse can help your teen identify when the line from healthy to unhealthy has been crossed. These signs include but are not limited to: Extreme jealousy or insecurity, isolating someone from family and friends, telling someone what to do or wear, checking their social media or personal accounts without permission, and an explosive temper. It might help to go over steps your teen can follow if they or someone they know find themselves in an abusive relationship. Steps such as talking to an adult they trust right away, remembering that safety is the most important thing, and utilizing various resources specifically for teen dating violence. Lastly, teens should not be afraid to ask for help, assure them that they are not alone, and it is not their fault.”
Commit to really listening to your teen. Good communication is an essential part of any relationship. All relationships have ups and downs, but a healthy communication style can make it easier to deal with conflict and build a stronger and healthier relationship. You can help your teen learn this by mirroring these skills in your own relationship. Be open to disagreements. Everyone does not have to agree 100% of the time about everything in order to have healthy relationships. If your teen says something that you don’t agree with, try to learn more about why they think the way they do.
Some of the conversations may address topics that you’ve never thought much about before, so don’t be surprised if your views on the subject change while you’re talking about them! If you find it difficult to engage in positive conversations with your teen, and especially if this is a pattern over time, it may be a sign that you could benefit from counseling, including individual and/or family counseling. To learn more about seeking counseling, please visit our website for tips on finding a family counselor.
Having deeper conversations can feel strange at first. But, over time, if you engage in these conversations with kindness and respect, you’ll see how they can help to push your relationships to a deeper, more meaningful connection with one another!