teen talk

Help your teen develop healthy relationships


November 1, 2021

Start talking about healthy teen relationships before dating even begins.

Parents of teens know that relationships take on elevated importance in the teenage years. Parents want happy and safe relationships — romantic or platonic — for their teenagers, but getting teens to open up about relationships can be tricky. Relationships can be hard for us all. How do you keep the lines of communication open and help your teen develop healthy ones?

Start talking early

We start talking to our kids about relationships when they’re young, because showing respect and kindness is important at any age. As teens move toward dating and romantic relationships, these conversations may start to change and take on a different meaning.

It is best to try to talk to your teens about these topics before they start dating. You can ask them things such as, “What are you looking for in a boyfriend/girlfriend/friend?” or “How would you like to be treated?” It is important to point out what is not healthy in a relationship — someone who makes you feel unsafe or tries to change or control things about you. Television shows or media posts can be great openings for conversations.

In this day and age, we also know teens are often active and having relationships — romantic or not — on social media. It’s important to monitor your teen’s activity online as well in real life. Be sure that you talk to your teen about appropriate interactions online as well as offline. Make sure they know to reach out to you if they feel bullied or unsafe with any sort of online or texting communication.

Relationship violence is a real issue for teens. One in three adolescents in the United States is the victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. More importantly, only 33 percent of teens in a violent relationship tell anyone about the abuse. In addition, cyberbullying has become an increasing threat to teens.

It is important for teens to know what’s healthy in a relationship and to have a place where they feel safe talking about their relationship. As parents, we want to be this place to be us.

Signs of issues in your teen’s relationships

In addition to frequent check-ins with your teen about their friends and relationships, you should watch for warning signs that your teen is in an unsafe or unhealthy relationship:

  • Sudden changes in your teen’s behavior, grades or interest in activities;
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries;
  • Teens isolating themselves or making excuses for a partner.

You can help your teen solve problems by asking what she would do if she felt unsafe or poorly treated by a partner. Listening to your teen’s answers and offering suggestions of your own can keep the conversation going.

Most importantly, be sure to model healthy relationships with others and with your children. Treating your partner, your friends and your teen with respect helps your teen see your values and examples in action. It’s also helpful to provide your teen with descriptions of what healthy — and not-so-healthy — relationships look like, whether romantic ones or friendships. Here is a helpful reality check for adolescents.

This post was written by Mary Romano, M.D., who loves taking care of adolescent patients and working with adolescents and their parents to keep them safe and healthy. She is the mother of two children.

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