This week, we present the third in our series of blogs on how to talk to your kids about relationships. Previously, we discussed ages 3-6 and 7-10. This week, we look at ways to engage kids ages 11-14. As kids navigate middle school and enter high school, the social and dating landscape changes. How can you help them be ready for the challenges they might face in the years ahead? Read on for some suggestions.
Be Willing to Listen: Let them take the lead in the conversation and if they raise ideas that you don’t agree with, practice your poker face. Larger conversations can start as an offhand remark.
Don’t Multitask: When they talk, give them all your attention. If you really can’t talk at that moment let them know that you want to talk at a later time and schedule that time right then. Be sure to keep that time to talk, even if they forget about it.
Start the Conversation: If you feel awkward bringing it up, they definitely will. Don’t let that awkwardness stop you from talking.
Don’t Have “The Talk”: Instead, have lots of little conversations. Chatting often both reinforces your family’s values and shows them that you have an interest in their world.
Make Sure You Know What They Are Talking About: If you’re not sure, ask. When you understand what they are asking, give an honest answer and seek solutions together. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer when it’s followed by “let’s find out”.
Reflect On Your Own Values before You Talk: Checking in about your own values about before you begin this conversation can help you engage with your child. Thinking about this can help you explain your reasoning and give you examples to back it up.
Talk About the Big Picture: Dating can be viewed as the ultimate romantic experience. You don’t have to squash that notion, but it is important to be realistic that relationships can be imperfect. Let them know that violence is never acceptable.
Encourage Assertiveness: Help your child to learn how to communicate their feelings and opinions by stating them clearly. This skill can help them express themselves in situations where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Promote Openness: The exchanging and keeping of secrets can feel like a sign of trust in an adolescent relationship. Remind them that strength does not mean dealing with everything on their own, and they can rely on the adults in their lives if they need to.