For better or worse, dating and sexual attraction between teenagers is natural, even expected if not dreaded with equal measure. There is a common assumption that teenage dating is just a childish phase that will soon pass, unless they’re having sex, in which case, the horror, clutch your pearls and call upon your God.
It’s worse than sex though, one study found that 14-32% of teens dating their peers reported being forced to have sex against their will. Physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse are rife according to research on teen dating. Here are some tips about talking to your child about healthy teen dating.
Teen romance is normal
Romantic interests are normal and healthy during adolescence. Start by acknowledging this yourself no matter how panicked you are by the rate at which your baby is growing. Some teens start dating earlier than others and some express more of an interest to participate than others. It’s interesting to note that teen dating has been on a decline. In 1991, only 14% of high school seniors were not dating, that number had jumped to 38% in 2013.
Teen dating may even be beneficial. Research shows dating helps teens build social skills and grow emotionally. It helps them build relationship skills like communication and intimacy as well as allows them to develop their own sexuality.
Find out what dating means to them
Before getting sucked in whole by panic, find out what dating means to your teen. Depending on their age and where they’re at emotionally, dating may just mean exchanging daily texts and hanging out.
Also, find out what’s going on in their school and friendship circles when it comes to teen dating. What does dating mean and look like for their friends? What happens/happened when they break up? Talk about what teen dating in movies looks like and how they think it stacks up to real-world relationships. Discuss gender roles and the expectations they have on the person they choose to date.
The right age to start dating
There’s a lot of pressure on teens and preteens to start dating and become sexually active. Different children will be ready at different times which is an important message to reinforce. The media and peer pressure from friends will make it seem like everyone’s doing it so it’s important to have that conversation with them.
Teen dating can also seem existential so that children feel like if they’re not dating like their peers they will also not have any romantic interests as adults. Remind them that there’s no rush, neither is it a must and decide when you think the right age for them to start dating is.
Remind them of the value of friendships
In the whole craze of teen dating especially if their friends are already dating, it’s easy to lose sight of the value of friendships. Plus media places an incredibly high premium on dating while diminishing the value of other relationships. Remind them that platonic friendships are important too, that they deserve care and attention and are emphatically not less valuable.
Set rules for teen dating
Children need structure and rules governing their conduct. This includes guidelines about dating like:
- Knowing who they’re dating (if they’re dating).
- Knowing where they are going on a date.
- Guidelines on where, when and how often they go on dates and with whom.
Keep in mind that there is a fine line between interest and intrusion. You want to show concern not an attempt to control the teenager.
Sex and physical intimacy
Talking about sex and physical intimacy when it comes to teen dating is inevitable. You need to talk about not bowing to the pressure to have sex. You also need to talk about safe sex and birth control. Then you have to have a conversation about the importance of getting active consent from your partner and not being pressured into it. You need to talk about how serious sex is and that it is not a decision to be made lightly.
Define a healthy relationship
If you leave it to Hollywood and the society at large to model what romantic relationships look like, you will be doing yourself and your child a great disservice. The portrayal of teen dating in media is incredibly unhealthy. For this reason, it’s important to describe and where possible, model what a healthy relationship looks like.
Emphasize that a relationship should have healthy boundaries that are respected by both parties. That a good partner will accept you as you are, support your personal choices and celebrate your achievements.
How in a healthy relationship both partners maintain outside interests and friendships and do not hinder the personal freedom of either partner.
Talk about abuse, warning signs and red flags
Teen dating abuse is rife. One in ten teen girls and one in eleven teen boys admit to having experienced physical violence in a dating relationship. Approximately one in five teen girls have been physically or sexually abused by their partners. For this reason, it’s important to talk about abuse and red flags that teens should be aware of whether or not they are ready to begin dating.
Types of abuse
Physical abuse: where a person hurts or tries to hurt their partner by hitting, kicking, or using other forms of physical violence
Sexual abuse: where a person forces or attempts to force and coerce their partner into engaging in a sexual act when their partner cannot give consent or has not consented.
Psychological aggression: where the partner uses verbal and non-verbal communication to harm another mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over them
Stalking: where a partner gives you repeated, unwanted attention and contact all of which make their partner afraid, fearful and concerned about their personal safety.
Red flags and warning signs
Teen dating can be a valuable way for young people to learn about romantic relationships. One of the key things to learn as you embark on romantic relationships for both teens and adults is being able to identify warning signs and red flags. Here are a few red flags to alert them to:
- Extreme jealousy
- Controlling behaviour
- Rushing to things like sex
- Pressures you to have sex and perform sexual acts
- Unpredictable mood swings
- Explosive anger
- Isolates you from friends and family
- Threatens violence
- Verbally abusive
- Uses force during an argument
- Intentionally sabotages the relationship or intentionally hurts their partner
- Uses things (people, items, feelings) against you
- Excessive drug and alcohol use
- All or nothing communication style
- Pushes your boundaries
- Your morals and values don’t align well
Remind your teen and tween to follow their instincts. If they have a bad feeling about someone they’re dating or interested in then that’s all they need to call it quits. Let them know they can come to you in the event of any abuse, that you’ll believe them and do everything in your power to make things right.
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