10 Tips to Help Teens Build Healthy Relationships

02-25-2016 9:30 AM

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. We often consider how a violent home affects teens. But their own love relationships need our attention too.

You might be surprised to know that females between the ages of 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. This takes many forms including emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

It’s natural for parents, teachers and other adults to minimize these young dating relationships. We may think it's just a silly crush. Or we reason that heartbreak is a necessary learning experience. Let’s be honest: teens are moody and dramatic!

It can be a challenge to discern when a mood shift or crying truly signifies a problem. Other times, teens withdraw. Most have mastered the one-word response. Given teens’ unpredictable, infuriating quirks—and then add cell phones into the mix—I understand why parents either give up or lay down the law to manage these confusing years.

It is precisely this intense period that makes teens vulnerable. They are questioning and creating their identities. They are heavily influenced by peer acceptance and rejection. They desire the security of belonging yet also want to assert their independence. The good news? This is also an incredible time of learning, creativity and exploration.

As mentors or caregivers, we can help teens establish safe emotional and physical boundaries.

Here are some ways to support your teens in making healthy relationship choices:

  1. Empower them to be critical thinkers. Ask about their views on TV shows, songs, events at school, etc., to help them become thoughtful observers and confident in their opinions.

  2. Be curious about all aspects of your teen’s life. Make open communication and sharing a norm. Teens notice if questions come only for investigation, criticism or discipline.

  3. Encourage their involvement in teams, clubs, sports and special interest groups. This allows for peer accountability, mentoring and building social skills and self-esteem.

  4. Avoid sweeping prohibitions on dating. Your teen will simply learn to hide the relationship. Forbidden behaviors become clouded in secrecy, shame, guilt and anxiety. Without any acceptance or flexibility from you, teens are left to their own devices to make decisions.

  5. Create reasonable boundaries for both protection and freedom. For example, how frequently should they check in with you? If there are restrictions on going out, can they invite people over?

  6. Educate them about “red flag” behaviors. For example, let them know that extreme jealousy or possessiveness signify control — not affection.

  7. Provide teens with people and resources they can turn to with questions. Be willing to engage in conversations without shaming. Validate teens’ feelings.

  8. Allow for mistakes. Your teen will inevitably make some bad choices! Establish appropriate consequences as needed, but more importantly, talk it out and reiterate your love and support.

  9. Remind teens that abuse is never the victim’s fault. Even if they went somewhere they “weren’t supposed to,” with someone they “weren’t supposed to be with,” no one deserves to be harmed, threatened, coerced, bullied, degraded or attacked.

  10. Learn together. Check out websites that provide more info about relationships and dating violence. Here are some great ones: Loveisrespect.org and also joinonelove.org, who created this powerful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JYyHa03x-U.

Share this with your social network to help
the teens and parents you know!

Ellen Kaney-Francis, LMSW, is a therapist at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support in Dallas. She works with women and adolescents, who have been impacted by domestic violence. Ellen also contributes to community outreach and education. Ellen holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from The University of Texas at Dallas and a master’s degree in social work from The University of Texas at Arlington.