Whether a parent or an adolescent, the teenage years are hard, and arguably getting harder for every generation. Thanks to social media, the internet, and smartphones, teens and their parents are more accessible than ever to the outside world, and unfortunately making us less accessible to each other.
Despite the uncharted changing technological territory, the awkward rite of passage for both parents and teens euphemistically known as “The Talk” still remains. There is a plethora of information available for how to talk to teens about sex. But what parenting books, blogs, and Modern Family episodes don’t cover as much as they should is how to talk to teens about relationships.
Teens have a right to be confused about what a healthy relationship is. And who can blame them? Sex is referred to as “making love,” television characters and celebrities are dating someone new every week, and even Facebook pressures people to declare a relationship status. Oh-and Twilight?!? Thank you, Stephanie Meyer, for a perfect example of what an unhealthy relationship is.
Thankfully, this means there are plenty of opportunities to discuss relationships. So what do you do once you’ve started the discussion? Here are a few tips:
- Firstly, be curious. What do they think of the relationship in the show they are watching? How do they feel about a friend’s new relationship? Keep asking them questions. Show you are interested, because you are.
- Listen. This is not the conversation to be cleaning, answering emails, or leveling up on Candy Crush. Actively listen to what your teen is saying. Do you notice any themes or misconceptions about relationships? Do they seem to idolize romantic relationships, or relate relationships to their self-worth? Do they say they are in love? Don’t interrupt them. It’s a common feeling to become panicked when you hear about the things your teen or their friends have done or are doing. Don’t let your fear control the conversation. Your turn to talk about things will come up, but it isn’t when they are talking.
- When it is your turn to talk, be honest. You do not have to have all the answers or personal experience that applies perfectly. You are not Yoda, nor is this an episode of 7th Heaven. Are you scared about what the future will hold for them? Are you struggling with accepting that they are already at dating age, and your brain is filled with images of driver’s licenses, college graduations, weddings and babies flashing through your eyes while you desperately just want them to be six years old again? Tell them that (maybe without the imagery). The point is that you care for them, so let them know that. If they have questions, answer them as best you can. If you don’t know, let them know you’ll find out.
- Educate them on what makes a relationship healthy. Not sure yourself? That’s okay! Here are some things you could talk about:
- The Equality/Nonviolence Wheel: This is an image that emphasizes the importance of respect, equality, fairness, trust, support, and honesty in a relationship.
- Sternberg’s Triangle of Love: This theory states that healthy love includes passion (romance, physical attraction), commitment (commitment to the relationship), and intimacy (closeness).
- Dr. John Gottman emphasized the importance of the following in healthy relationships:
- Treat your partner like a friend.
- Handle conflicts gently.
- Repair after fights
- Talk about healthy relationship examples in your life and what you admire about those relationships. If you don’t have healthy relationships in your life, talk about the unhealthy ones. What makes those relationships unhealthy? You can also use examples of healthy relationships on television. Examples include Monica and Chandler from Friends, Pam and Jim from The Office, Becky and Jesse from Full House, and Leslie and Ben from Parks and Recreation.
If you are struggling to find ways to connect with your teen, you will find a partner here at The Refuge Center for Counseling to help you navigate these strange new waters, for both of you. Call us at 615-591-5262.