help your teen develop healthy dating relationships
With February being the month we celebrate love and romance, it is an appropriate time to talk with our teens about healthy dating relationships. Dating is a normal part of adolescence, but unhealthy relationships can have a lasting negative impact.
As much as we would like to think violence does not exist in teen relationships, recent studies paint a different picture. Studies have shown that one out of every three teens in dating relationships has experienced some type of violence in that relationship, whether it is physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Equally concerning is the fact that few teens who have experienced dating violence seek help. “Teens in violent dating relationships can feel isolated and believe they are to blame for the behavior, leading to increased anxiety and depression,” says Joy Miceli, PhD, pediatric psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
How can we help our teens recognize that a relationship might be unhealthy? While teens tend to be more emotional and intense in their relationships than adults, certain behaviors are concerning for unhealthy relationships and possible teen violence. These can include your child’s partner being negative and critical towards them, being overly jealous and isolating of your teen, frequent texting or calling that requires an immediate response. You should also be concerned if your child has stopped spending time with family and friends or is less involved in activities, if your teen expresses worry about how their dating partner will respond and makes decisions based on that worry, if their grades have dropped, or they have unexplained marks or bruises.
Prevention of dating violence starts well before a teen begins dating. As always, maintaining open communication with your adolescent is important. The following tips may also be helpful:
- Model a healthy and positive relationship between you and your significant other.
- Educate your teen and provide ongoing discussions about what makes a healthy relationship. Make use of opportunities to talk about healthy/unhealthy relationships as you watch television, movies or Youtube with your teen.
- Encourage and practice assertive communication skills. Teens need to be aware of their right to set boundaries and enforce these.
- Identify supportive adults a teen can reach out to for help in the event a relationship is unhealthy or violent.
- Initiate a conversation with your teen if you see behaviors of concern. Avoid blaming or being negative about the child’s partner and focus on specific behaviors. Respond calmly and supportively to what your teen shares and develop a plan to address concerning behaviors. This might include decreasing contact between your teen and their partner or talking with a therapist.
We want our teens to learn how to develop healthy, supportive relationships. As parents, we can be an active part of this process.