Dating and Relationships
It can be scary when your child starts dating.
As much as you might like to lay down the law (“No sex until you’re married!” or “Not while you’re under my roof!”), giving hard and fast rules about when sex is acceptable doesn’t work because there’s no real way to reinforce them.
The only way to control your teen’s sexual behavior is to change the way they think. Teaching your kids to think critically about sex and relationships will help them make better choices when they’re on their own, which will boost their self-esteem and sense of independence.
So how do you shape their decision-making skills?
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Maintain a conversation with your teen as they start dating and begin to have more serious relationships. They need you, now more than ever, so don’t disappear because you’re not sure what to say. Keep asking questions, and keep showing interest in the details of your child’s life—they’ll open up eventually.
Share Your Values
Talk about your values and communicate your expectations. Although it may not seem like it, your opinions matter a great deal to your child. A few things you may want to address:
- Mutual respect and trust should be present before you engage in a sexual relationship.
- A partner who loves and respects you will never force you into doing something you’re uncomfortable with.
- You should be prepared emotionally and physically for sex.
- Being prepared emotionally means that you feel safe with your partner and that you’re not rushing into anything you’re not ready for.
- Being prepared physically means making sure you are using contraception and that you’re protected from STIs by using a condom.
Model Good Behavior
The quickest and easiest way for your children to learn what a healthy relationship is (and more importantly, what it isn’t) is by watching you interact with your partner and others.
Rejection is a normal part of dating, but it can be heartbreaking when it happens to your son or daughter. Let them know that you’re proud of them for making themselves vulnerable, and that it’s OK to feel sad when things don’t work out. Encourage them to share their feelings with you and listen without judgment.
Help Them Set Appropriate Boundaries
Let teens know that they should always feel respected and valued in a relationship. Tell them that it’s never appropriate for a girlfriend or boyfriend to make them feel worthless or try to control them. This abuse could take the form of constant unwanted texting, requesting sexual photos, making comments about their appearance, or checking their cell phone or email without permission.
You can start talking to your child about boundaries as soon as they can speak. Read our age-approrpiate guidelines for advice on what to discuss.
Use Examples From Pop Culture
One way to make it easier to have ongoing conversations with your child about healthy relationships is by using examples from TV shows and movies. Many shows feature unrealistic portrayals of romantic relationships and focus on the early stages of infatuation instead of focusing on the skills needed to create a healthy, long-lasting union.
Learn about the importance talking with young people about love, not just sex, in this article on NPR.org.