Today we present the last in our series on talking to your kids about healthy relationships. This may be the most challenging group yet, kids ages 15-18! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our other posts on talking to kids ages 3-6, 7-10, and 11-14. We also have some suggestions for talking to young adults as they head off to college.
With rapid changes in technology and social media, teens today face a dating world that is often much different than adults only slightly older than them. It can be hard to know how to relate across generations, but it’s important to do so. Talking openly and honestly about relationships with the teens in your life can help prevent teen dating violence and help them make healthy choices about the relationships in their lives. Here are some suggestions:
Ask Open Ended Questions: These questions encourage open discussion. Make sure you listen to them and give them a chance to speak. As hard as it may be, try not to analyze, interrupt or criticize their feelings or values.
Keep it Low Key: This doesn’t have to be a weekly sit down about healthy relationships. Address things as they come up. It could be hearing a song on the radio or chatting as you get a cup of coffee. Be supportive and nonjudgmental so they know they can come to you for help if their relationship becomes unhealthy in the future.
Remind Them to Have Fun: While it’s important not to minimize their feelings about their relationships, it’s important to remind them that dating should be fun. Violence within a relationship is never acceptable.
Present Options: You don’t have to be the only person they talk to. Remind them that there are people who are there to support them if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
Just Say No: Remind them that they have the right to say no to anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. If their relationship feels uncomfortable, awkward or frightening, assure them they can come to you. Stress that they have the right to make decisions for themselves, even if they are in a relationship.
Tell Them What You Did: Although they may not seem to care about what you do, they are aware of what they see happening in your relationship. Take a quick inventory of your past and present relationships: what worked, what didn’t work and what you learned. Don’t be afraid to use those lessons in conversations.
Be Okay With Them Being Quiet: It’s not always easy to open up about tough stuff. Give them a chance to digest what you’re saying and think about their responses. If there is a lot of silence, address it. Say, “You were really quiet when I brought that up, why was that?”
Find An Ally: Consider finding another adult who is close to your teen to be a sounding board for them. This should be someone who shares your values and someone they would feel comfortable going to for help and advice. You can have a conversation about who this person could be. Remember, the important thing is that they have an adult to turn to for advice and guidance.
Have Patience: It’s tempting to have “The Talk” and be done with it. However, good communication takes time and practice. You’re creating a foundation of trust so you can be a safe person for them to turn to. Teens usually hear more than they are willing to admit. Much of what you say will be remembered and used later.
REACH does a lot of work with teens, including our own program PAVE (Peers Against ViolencE) and work at the state level with the Attorney General’s “Game Change: the Patriots Anti-Violence Partnership.” We can connect you with services for kids of any age. If you have concerns about their relationships, and/or about something they may have seen or experienced at home, check out our Supportive Services or call our hotline at 1-800-899-4000.