Welcome to the teen years, where it is all about relationships, friendships, fun, and socialization! While this can represent an exciting new phase of life for your child, it also can be potentially dangerous in relation to their mental and emotional health. During these years, behavioral patterns in relationships can be established, and carried into adulthood. Therefore, it is essential that, we as parents, provide our teenagers with the necessary tools to navigate both romantic and non-romantic relationships!
Am I being proactive in teaching my teenager?
-What does a healthy relationship look like?
It is important that parents educate their children not only on “what not to do”, but also on “what to do”. Teenagers need to know what a healthy relationship looks like. They need to know how they should expect others to treat them, and how they should treat other people. The saying “We teach people how to treat us”, is quite true. Parents can help set the “norms” of relationships for their teens, in both romantic relationships and friendships as well, by proactively informing them of what behaviors are and are not acceptable.
-What does an abusive/toxic relationship look like?
Most teenagers, and adults for that matter, have trouble recognizing whether a relationship is abusive or unhealthy. Teenagers especially, need to know what behavior is acceptable, and what is considered abusive. Teaching teenagers to recognize “red flags” in relationships can help them avoid abusive relationships before they get too emotionally involved. This of course, does not ensure that they will always make the healthy choice in these situations, but at least they are more likely not to characterize abusive behavior as “normal”.
Am I modeling healthy relationships?
In raising teenagers, it is imperative that we “practice what we preach”. Anyone who has ever been around teenagers for any length of time, knows that they have no problem pointing out hypocrisy in adults. In fact, this is one of the things I hear most often in my work with teenagers. As parents, we must understand that when we strive to make our “walk” match up with our “talk”, this sends a powerful message to our teenagers that we really believe and value the principles we are trying to instill in them. Do not “shoot yourself in the foot” as a parent by giving your teenagers reasons to discount everything you say, because you say one thing, and then do another!
Modeling healthy relationships for our teenagers is essential in our romantic relationships, AND in our relationships with the teenager themselves. If I have poor boundaries with my teenager, yell or scream at them, belittle them, call them names, discount their feelings etc.., then how effective is it for me to tell them to not tolerate this behavior from someone else? Therefore, it is essential that parents teach them the characteristics of healthy relationships by living these characteristics out themselves. Do not expect your teenager to do something, you yourself are not willing to do.
Basic characteristics of a healthy relationships:
–Conflict Resolution skills
-Healthy Boundaries (Emotional, Physical, Sexual, Intellectual, and Spiritual)
Teenagers need to be taught how to function in relationships. Parents can’t expect them to “just know” what to do. Not only to they need knowledge of relationship skills, they also need to see examples of these skills applied in everyday relational interactions. Remember, if your teenager is not learning these things from you, they are learning it from somewhere else, and often that source of information is not healthy or accurate.
Additionally, we as parents may need to work on developing these skills ourselves or take inventory of our own behaviors in relationships. Like our teens, we often repeat what was modeled for us in relationships, which is not always healthy. In this case, the best approach is not “beating ourselves up” over past mistakes, but in educating ourselves and implementing behavioral changes.
Discussing past mistakes with teenagers, normalizes mistakes for them, and goes a long way in establishing trust and emotional connection in the parent teen-relationship, especially when these mistakes are not repeated.