By Allison Crowe, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Loveisrespect.org (2015) reported that over 80% of parents of teens either do not believe that teen dating violence (TDV) is an issue that teens face, or do not know whether it is an issue for teens. This statistic suggests that many parents may not understand TDV, and are not aware of how to best support their children if they suspect an abusive dating relationship. However, we know that parents play a huge role in their teens’ lives! Parent-child communication is an important protective factor for teens. Because of this, one of our newest resources at See the Triumph is a Discussion Guide for Parents who want to talk to their teens about dating violence but who might need a little extra help on getting these discussions started. Talking about dating, intimacy, and relationships is one of the ways to establish honesty, communication, and openness so that something like teen dating violence never occurs. The following 3 tips and suggestions are offered to assist how to establish and continue the routine of having these types of open conversations in families. This list of tips is by no means exhaustive – it is just a few ideas that come to mind for how to sustain good habits for open dialogue.
#1 Set aside time as a family to check in with one another. Whether this is at the dinner table, on a particular night of the week, or whenever you have a hunch that it might be a good time to talk, reach out to your teen (or teens, reach out to your parent). Consider this a “check-in” to see how the other is doing, how their day at school/work went, etc. Sometimes a small issue can get resolved or explored before it gets bigger when it’s discussed early. This could be as simple as, “Is everything okay with you?” or “How has your week been?” Or you might use a more structured question such as “What was everyone’s best moment this week and what was everyone’s worst moment this week?” Additionally, remember to talk about issues that are going on around you – in the news, the community, in your personal circles, etc. Open discussion on a regular basis provides opportunities for everyone in the family to share, talk openly, and practice healthy communication. The more you practice, the easier it gets! Soon, you might notice that talking in this way feels more natural and comfortable.
#2 Use “I messages” rather than “You messages.” When you are talking about yourself and your feelings and thoughts, remember to own them as yours rather than talk about the other person in the scenario. For example, teens, if you want to tell your parent about someone you are dating that your parent doesn’t seem to approve of, you might say: “I feel excited about this new guy I am dating, and it’s frustrating that you don’t seem to approve” rather than: “You don’t like this new guy I am dating….” Using “I messages” helps the listener feel less defensive and able to hear what you are saying. It also helps you really hone in and focus on yourself in the situation.
#3 Respect each other. Parents, as much as you might still see your teen as your little girl or boy, remember that he/she is in the process of becoming an adult. Teens should feel respected by parents (and vice versa), so remember to actively work on showing each other that you respect and value each other as individuals. Parents, ask your teen about his or her opinions and thoughts on matters, respect him/her as you discuss, and convey this to each other so that the other person feels valued. Teens, remember that your parent wants to feel respected and valued as well. Consider how you can convey this too.
These 3 tips are simple ways to keep the conversation going about dating, intimacy, and relationships. These are difficult topics, so it might take ongoing efforts as a family to talk about them. If it’s difficult at first, keep practicing! Healthy communication skills might take a little while to get the hang of. Overall, remember that these small conversations can pave the way to bigger, more serious ones down the road. Parents, parent-child communication is a huge protective factor for teens, so establish these discussions early on and keep these conversations going!