Talking to Teens About Healthy Relationships

By Janaina Bordignon

As parents and caregivers, we often have to make choices on not only how, but also what to talk about with our teens. While some topics might feel too heavy, too soon, too uncomfortable, we do want to make sure that our loved ones are happy and healthy. The good news is that the traditional and awkward “talk” is no longer the only time or way to speak with our youth about dating, sex and safety. Instead, we can establish a casual, ongoing dialogue about healthy relationships; and the best part is that it can start at any age!

Teens learn a lot about “how the world works” within the home and school environments, but they are also constantly bombarded with messages from media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, movies and TV shows. The problem nonetheless arises when popular media, for the sole purpose of higher ratings, displays toxic role models over and over again, painting abuse, neglect and unhealthy boundaries as both the standard and proofs of passion and loyalty.

If our teens are not having honest and non-judgmental conversations at home about what healthy relationships look like, they might be left with the media to base their own relationship decisions on. In addition to other risk factors, this contributes to statistics such as “one in three girls in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.”[1] Teen dating violence is not a normal part of becoming a mature adult.

In addition, such behavior is preventable, as talking about healthy relationships with our teens can also be a fun opportunity to sustain a trusting bond and safe space for the family. This dialogue can be done casually on an ongoing basis, taking advantage of music videos, song lyrics, TV shows episodes, or even celebrity gossip. As it is not approached as a “talk,” it does not feel like a lecture or a one-time opportunity to discuss something, creating an opportunity for our teens to approach us at any time they might have a question or concern. Open-ended questions, such as “so what’s important for you in a relationship?” and an open mind can go a long way in keeping our teens safe and happy as they deserve.

[1] Information retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/pdf/Dating_Abuse_Statistics.pdf. Last access in June, 2017.