How to Talk to Your Teenage Children About Dating
The best thing we can do for our teenage children as they begin dating and onwards is to set a great example in our own relationships.
One of the most important phases of a child’s development occurs in that teenage phase of exploration, experimentation and discovery. Although life is a journey filled with ups and downs, and it’s those very experiences that make us, there are many things we can do as parents to help our children navigate through this exhilarating, blissful and at times confusing period of life.
Experts tell us that the first step to helping our children through this stage is to educate ourselves on the phases of dating today. It tends to happen in three waves. Many children begin to form their first real crushes in middle school. Despite the fact that they rarely interact outside of class.
The second phase, later in middle school, occurs as children begin to socialize on their own time. Today, this primarily occurs through devices and social media. “It changes constantly,” Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author of Untangled explains, “but it might be something like Snapchat, then direct messaging, and then texting.” These relationships are often intense, since — thanks to these devices — kids often spend hours “together” even though they’re not in the same room. As for spending time together in real life, kids tend to go on group dates, with some hand-holding taking place.
By phase three, the final two years of highschool, couples are spending time together intimately, and real bonds are forming. They are setting the foundations for the mature relationships they’ll have throughout their lives. Despite what it may seem like however, kids are spending much less time sexually active today than in previous generations, Dr. Damour explains.
The Root of Relationships
When you first find out that your child has a crush, it’s important to approach it with kindness and lightheartedness. You don’t want to trivialize it, or make them feel like it’s funny even though it may be cute to you. You also don’t want to apply an adult lens to the situation, and apply too much pressure to something they’re just figuring out.
Instead, you want to focus on the platonic part of the relationship. The part that is universal to all human beings. The foundations that teach empathy, forgiveness, compassion, and more. Encourage them to get to know their crush and to become good listeners and communicators. Teach them to have a holistic approach to getting to know someone, how to be understanding and non-judgemental. Be careful though, it’s easy to say these things and then simultaneously judge our children’s crush at the same time.
It’s also important to remember that you are, and always will be, a parent. Not your children’s friend. We are responsible for the protection of your kids and knowing the signs of unhealthy relationship patterns falls on our shoulders. Be cautious of overly demanding partners, or relationships where the maturity level or age gap is different. Help your kids steer clear of significant others who encourage risky behavior like sneaking out at night. Although heartbreak is a normal part of sex and relationships, it can be particularly trying for kids, Dr. Damour explains. “When teens are upset, their emotions can outmatch their ability to have perspective, and they can become quite undone.”
Heartbreak is also a normal part of life and it’s important to be available to your children if they’re going through it. “One of the gendered findings from studies is that girls are more likely to discuss heartbreak, while boys distract themselves,” Dr. Damour says. So, girls often get support by reaching out to their peers, whereas boys might feel more isolated with their feelings.
On study indicates that in the Netherlands — where sex ed begins in kindergarten — the teen pregnancy rate is the lowest in the world. If we initially broach the subject earlier, the foundations for healthy relationships and positive attachments to sex are already there. It’s far easier to understand and comprehend, as well as feel comfortable with relationships with a proper understanding and approach.
Consent, and Healthy Relationship Habits
A major aspect of these conversations should be centered around consent. Clear consent is the cornerstone to healthy dating for both boys and girls. Dr. Smiler says, “the best advice is to always ask if you can do something first. Let your kids know they need to hear a clear “yes” before making the first move or taking things to the next level.
Discuss healthy relationship patterns, especially the importance of both people’s needs being met in a relationship. There is a level of commitment and compromise that must occur. An awareness of each other’s emotions and securities is critical to a healthy relationship. It’s imperative for your child to understand that their relationship is a habit, a collection of little acts that indicate how much they truly care for their person. Respect is at the heart of that relationship.
Above all, the best thing we can do for our teenage children as they begin dating and onwards is to set a great example in our own relationships. Clearly indicating to them what a respectful relationship looks like, while also being comfortable with discussions around intimacy, how our bodies change and more, gives our children the blueprint to form beautiful bonds.
No matter what we do, or how much we prepare ourselves, it will still be a journey that unfolds for them to experience on their own. All we can do is provide the best possible framework we can to their situation, and allow them to learn and make judgments on their own. Children do as you do, not as you say.
Despite all you teach them, they are more than likely to end up forming the habits they see you undertake in your daily life. Be aware of that, and hold that responsibility in the highest regard, especially in how we treat others, and interact in our relationships. These little actions are the definitions that our children form around love and intimacy.