How to talk to your teens and pre-teens about healthy relationships
The following article is part three of a four-week series focusing on raising awareness about dating violence. February is Dating Violence Awareness month, and we hope to educate our community on this very important issue. One-inthree young people will experience dating violence in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 2,055 victims of abuse (face-to-face) primarily from Hays and Caldwell Counties.
A healthy relationship is something most people desire, so of course we desire the same for our children. However, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well MY parents never talked to me about this, so why do I have to talk about this with my child?” Good question!
Talking to your children and modeling healthy relationships can improve their lives.
First and foremost, it is never too early or too late to begin to talk or model healthy relationships. There is no one true correct way to do this. Every human is different, and it takes patience, commitment, openness, and accepting that mistakes are normal part of being human.
Healthy relationships go beyond intimate connections. Healthy relationships include ALL relationships, not just romantic ones. The relationship you have with your children will serve as a model throughout their lives. Create a space with them that fosters open communication and encourages them to come to you FIRST with questions.
• Creating a Safe Space
Youth have a desire to be seen, heard, and validated by adults. Show up and listen, no matter what they’re talking about. Kids may find it easier to speak about their friends or characters and that can allow them to begin to feel as though they are heard. If you’re available for the small stuff, your kids will be more likely to think you’re available for the big stuff.
• Talking about relationships can be AWKWARD!
It’s okay to feel uncomfortable and awkward Your kids probably will too. Show them that it’s okay, and even important to talk things through, even when it feels weird
• Be mindful of stereotypes
Sexist and gendered language can find their way into our everyday phrases. It important to pay attention to language and avoid victim blaming.
• “Boys will be boys”
• “Boys can’t handle themselves so you can’t wear (article of clothing)”
• “Are you sure that actually happened?”
• “It is just a phase”
Caregivers can learn a lot from kids. It can be extremely helpful to be not only open to learning from youth but to also do our own research as well. Learn about how young people are connecting these days. Now, more than ever, young people connect through social media and online dating apps. Ask your kids about their social media usage Most importantly, support and believe them — at the end of the day, it is about them and their experience.
This article included highlights from a feature length article written by an HCWC counselor. The full-length article and a list of related resources will be made available on HCWC’s educational website: www.stopthehurt.org in the future. We are committed to providing free, safe, and confidential services to victims of dating violence. If you are experiencing dating violence, please call our HELPLine 24/7 at 512- 396-4357. HCWC’s Counseling & Resource Center has a counselor specifically focused on Dating Violence and our Prevention Educators are available to presentations and education about dating violence.
This column was written with supervision from Dawn McFadden, LPC-S, PhD