Pointers for Parents: Fostering Healthy Relationships

Teach teens to put themselves first. The most important relationship they have is the one they have with themselves.  Being able to love and protect yourself forms the foundation for healthy relationships with others.

 

Set high expectations.  In healthy relationships, individuals who love and protect themselves choose to love and protect each other.  Their grades go up, not down.  They remain close to family and friends (even if spending less time together).  They feel proud of each other, not jealous or resentful.  Rather than feeling pressured to change to please another person, they feel empowered about who they already are. 

 

Teach by example. Children need to witness healthy relational skills in action with their own eyes.  Allow teens to see glimpses of tender (not necessarily sexual) moments.  Let them watch how handle conflict in a relationship with compromise and consideration for the other’s needs and feelings.  Don’t be afraid to let them see you kiss and make up.

 

Don’t rush them.  Don’t push teens to have boyfriends or girlfriends too soon. Give examples of how increasing maturity leads to improved ability to recognize and maintain good decision making in relationships.

 

Don’t discount young love.  Infatuation and romantic attachments can be very intense for teenagers.  Adolescents crave validation from peers; the pull toward someone who “gets them” can be magnetic (especially when hormones are involved).  While not always judged as “true love” by adult standards, their feelings are very real to them.

 

Ask questions…What they like about the other person? Why do they think that person likes them? Be a sounding board to help teens process their own feelings (and to give you insight into how they think about their relationships). 

 

…but not too many.  When we are too “nosey,” teens may stop sharing altogether. Be open to brief conversations.  Listen without judgment and without demanding every detail; little by little, your teen will learn to feel comfortable coming to you for advice when they are ready to be more open.

 

Fireworks versus friendship.  Over time, strong relationships thrive on foundations of friendship and mutual respect.  Encourage your teen to prioritize and develop these qualities in their intimate relationships.  When life gets hard or complicated, a partnership needs more than passion and hormones to survive. 

Good relationships, bad days.  Life isn’t always about being happy. Sometimes, it is about things that are hard, how we respond, and how those close to us help us get through difficult times.  When teens learn to work through problems as a couple, they build skills for necessary for surviving the stresses of lifetime partnership.

 

Things that are hard are not without value.  After the tears have passed, help your teen identify concretely—with specific examples—what to look for (and what to avoid) in future relationships.

 

Recognize the red flags of unhealthy or violent relationships in your adolescent and get help

  • Withdrawal from friends and activities; spending more time alone with their partner

  • Need for permission from the partner to make even simple plans/commitments for fear the other will be upset

  • Frequent apology for the other’s behaviors

  • Sudden changes in plans for reasons that don’t make sense

  • Use of clothing to hide certain body parts (arms, eyes, etc.); visible marks or bruises

  • Close friends (or parents) don’t like the partner (there’s often a good reason)

     

    All of these are signs that the adolescent needs help as soon as possible.  Sources of help can include health care professionals, counselors and local resources.