It is that time. A time you have possibly been worrying about or dreading for years. Your “baby” has a boyfriend or a girlfriend! But even though it can be a little scary to think about, you really just want to make sure your teen is in a happy and healthy relationship. So, how do you know and what can you do to help?
I sat down with Shenika Dillard, L.P.N., a Carilion Clinic community health educator and Safe Kids Southwest Virginia co-coordinator, to find out more about teens and healthy relationships.
Living: What are characteristics of a healthy relationship?
Dillard: There are several characteristics. A healthy relationship should include honesty, respect, trust, support, equality, good communication, physical safety and loyalty.
Living: What are characteristics of an unhealthy relationship?
Dillard: A relationship is unhealthy when it involves mean, disrespectful, controlling or abusive behavior. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a lot of fighting and yelling in your teen’s relationship?
- Did your son or daughter drop their friends or outside interests for their boyfriend or girlfriend?
- Are there more bad times than good? Is one person in the relationship very controlling? For instance, does your daughter’s boyfriend monitor all of her calls and texts on her cell phone? Or perhaps, one person in the relationship makes all of the decisions?
- Does your son’s girlfriend belittle his opinions or interests? Or does your daughter’s boyfriend criticize the way she looks or dresses?
These are all signs that your teen’s relationship is not healthy.
Living: What is dating violence?
Dillard: Dating violence is when one person in the relationship is abusive to the other person. But this in not limited to physical abuse. It also includes stalking and verbal abuse. The abuse can happen in person, online or in text messages, and it can happen to boys and girls.
Living: When should parents start talking to their teen about what healthy relationships should look like?
Dillard: You can start your child on the path to a healthy relationship at an early age by being a positive role model. If you treat your spouse, children and friends in a kind and supportive way, your child will learn from those experiences and model her behavior on what she sees on a daily basis.
Living: What else can parents do to help make sure their teen is in a healthy relationship?
Dillard: It is important to set rules for dating, such as:
- Decide if the boyfriend or girlfriend can come over when you are not home.
- Is your teen allowed to go on a date with someone you have not met?
- Talk to your teen about what to do if something goes wrong on the date.
Just remember to talk to your teen openly and honestly, and help her develop realistic expectations for a healthy and happy relationship.
See also: Talking to Your Teen About Sex.