Parents: Tips to help your child successfully navigate relationships

The best time to begin discussing dating and healthy relationships with your child is before they start dating.  As a parent, it’s important to establish reasonable dating boundaries based on your child’s age and maturity.  You can help foster healthier dating relationships for your child:

  • Emphasize your child’s inherent self-worth. No relationship can add or take away value as an individual.
  • State that no one can deny your child the right to be a free individual by saying who they can talk to, what they can wear, where they can go, etc.
  • Share that any relationship based on fear, power, or control is not about love.  Talk about the different types of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual, and electronic.  As your child’s friends begin to date, talk about identifying signs of healthy versus unhealthy relationships.
  • Discuss physical intimacy issues as developmentally appropriate.  Express how important it is to talk to their partners about sexual boundaries and sexual health/contraception concerns BEFORE they’re “in the heat of the moment.”  Express that everyone has the right to ask their partner to get tested for diseases before engaging in physical activities.  Make yourself available to talk about sexual health choices; don’t make it a one-time conversation.
  • Discuss safety measures when it comes to meeting, dating, and breaking up.  For instance, share the potential dangers of starting any relationship with someone they only know online.  Encourage spending time with significant others in groups.
  • Reassure your child that they can talk to you anytime about any relationship struggle.
  • Promise to always be available to pick them up around the clock if they are in an uncomfortable situation.
  • If your child is in the process of ending an unhealthy relationship, you consider dropping them off and picking them up from school with a friend so that there is no alone-time.  Meet with administration if you have concerns with your child’s class schedule and encountering their ex-partner.

If your child comes to you with concerns about a relationship, make supportive statements like, “I’m glad you’re sharing this with me.”  Validate your child’s feelings with statements like, “I can see why you feel that way.”  Try not to get angry, make demands, or punish your child in a way that would discourage open communication with you.  Don’t minimize any experiences or the importance of the relationship to your child.  Make a conscious effort not interrupt your child.  Don’t put down your child’s significant other, but instead, emphasize your child’s entitlement to a healthy, happy, supportive relationship.  If your child wishes to end the relationship, offer them ongoing support and encouragement.  Help your child plug into other social outlets during the rough period of breaking up.  Reassure your child you will not be judgmental, but are always available to listen and help.  Be on the lookout for warning signs of abuse:

  • Altering appearance and clothing.
  • Suffering grades, less involvement in activities
  • Physical injuries
  • Decreased contact with normal social outlets & friends
  • Indecisiveness, moodiness, anxiety, appetite/sleep disturbances
  • Constantly thinking about dating partner
  • Use of alcohol, drugs, or unprotected sexual relations

If you have concerns about a relationship your child is in, and your child isn’t willing to talk with you, consider finding a trusted professional or family friend who can reach out to your child and lend an ear.   Visit our RESOURCES page for additional information.