This is a post by Amy Moeller. Amy is a therapist who has worked with children and adolescents for 25 years. She works in the Adolescent Health Department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and treats teenagers experiencing depression, anxiety, social struggles and chemical dependency. In addition, Amy co-founded The Family Enhancement Center in south Minneapolis 17 years ago. She works at the center part time with children and families who have been affected by physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Amy is married and the mother of three children.
School has started and with a new school year comes new friends and people to “hang out with.” My son and his friends tell me that no one uses the word “dating,” anymore. You “hang out” with someone. When questioned further, it sounds like dating to me.
Dating has changed since I was in high school. It’s neither wholly better or worse. It’s just different. Gone is the traditional “date” where boy picks up girl, and they go to a movie or out to a restaurant. Instead, they hang out in packs for the night. For the most part, I see this as a good thing. With a group of friends, they have each other’s back. Some would argue that this increases peer pressure and what they may do in a group, they may not do alone. This has not been my experience either in my work or in my own home. Peer pressure can be present anywhere. Whether a teen has the self-esteem and the skills to resist it is the key. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on a traditional date or with a pack.
So, what does a healthy relationship look like? Since some adults have trouble with this concept, it’s paramount we educate and provide guidance to our teens as they form relationships. As a mom, I’ve discussed the following points with my children, and I hope you’ll find them beneficial, too:
You knew this was coming, right? This is the hallmark of any healthy relationship. Communication means you can share things about yourself and about your feelings. You can express worries, fears, and insecurities without fearing the other person will ridicule them or put them down. There can be disagreements without fighting. In a healthy relationship, people stay calm and talk about how they feel.
Respect and trust
Respect each other. In healthy relationships people view each other as equals. Girls should not buy into the myth that “he is the boss.” In a healthy relationship neither person controls or serves the other. Your partner’s wishes and feelings have value. Let your partner know that you are making an effort to keep their ideas/wishes/needs in mind. Trust means that you and your partner are not possessive of each other. You can spend time apart and with other friends without the other person becoming suspicious.
Negotiation and compromise
Negotiation means you talk until you reach an agreement. Compromise means each person gives up a little of what they want until an agreement is reached. This is not always easy, but it is a skill children and teens will carry with them throughout life. “Give and take” is the name of the game. Try to solve conflicts in a fair and rational way. Be assertive, not aggressive. Being assertive means you ask for what you want in a clear and respectful way. Being aggressive means using intimidation, threats or force to get what you want. If you feel you are being bullied, then the other person is being aggressive, not assertive.
Be supportive of each other. Offer reassurance and encouragement to your partner. Support each other’s goals and aspirations. Encourage your partner to do their very best.
Signs of an unhealthy relationship
Parents typically discuss dating rules with their teen. They talk about where they are going, what they are doing and when they will be home. But have you discussed red flags, different forms of abuse and unhealthy qualities in a relationship?
Some of the first signs that your teen is in an unhealthy relationship is that they spend all their time with that person. They lose contact with their other friends and seem only to be with their significant other. That person discourages your teen from seeing other friends and family and interferes with their past routine activities.
Some questions to discuss with your teen: Is the other person putting you down? Does he/she harass or embarrass you? Does he/she try to keep you away from friends and family? Does he/she spy on you or want to keep constant tabs on you? Does he/she want to look at your text messages or want the passwords to your social media sites? These are all red flags and signs of emotional abuse.
Physical abuse includes not only hitting but also pushing, shoving, kicking or grabbing. In the past 12 months, one in 10 teens reported they have been hit or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Twenty percent of American teenage girls report that they have been hit, slapped or forced into sexual activity by their partners.
Sexual abuse includes not only rape but also any unwanted sexual contact or trying to constantly talk a person in to sexual things they have said “no” to.
Let your teen know that if they think they are in an abusive relationship or they have questions about healthy relationships, talk to a trusted adult. This could be a parent, teacher, school counselor, pastor or a friend’s parent. Hopefully it will be you, their parent, but if not, give them other resources.
If you need to reach out for more help you can contact:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474