Originally published: February 2023
Many people describe their first romantic relationship as a meaningful experience—an opportunity to learn about themselves, build confidence, and connect intimately with another person. Teen romance shapes us in many ways. It helps young people learn about respect, honesty, trust, and kindness. It builds valuable life skills, like how to manage emotions, communicate, and deal with conflict.
Teen romance has its ups and downs. It’s likely that your teen will need your support as they navigate their first romantic journey. Here are some practical tips to help you guide the way.
Lead by example
You or your teen might feel uneasy talking about romantic relationships. To help get conversations flowing, try these ideas for creating a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental space:
- Be curious about your teen’s world. Use movies, games, and media to open up conversations on topics like dating, love, gender, and sexuality. Ask questions and really listen to what your teen has to say. Do your best to keep an open mind.
- Remind your teen that everyone develops at their own pace. Sometimes it can feel like everyone they know is dating or is sexually active, but this isn’t likely the case. Be reassuring and supportive.
- Talk about what you value as a family when it comes to relationships. Reflect on the foundations you agree on, like respect, honesty, and open communication. Ask your teen about the qualities they’ll look for in a romantic partner.
- Get your teen involved in negotiating the boundaries you have for each other when it comes to romantic relationships. Instead of dwelling on the rules, focus on what you agree on.
Build skills for healthy relationships
Together with your teen, explore the differences between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships. These relationship types vary in how people talk to each other, spend time together, trust each other, and in many other varying ways. Learning about these differences will prepare your teen to recognize challenges in relationships with romantic partners and with peers at school, online, and in the community.
Teach sexual consent. It’s important for your teen to be able to talk about sexual activities they’re comfortable with and feel confident in their choices, without pressuring or being pressured by their romantic partner. Be firm about giving and receiving consent for every sexual activity, every time. For tips on what you can say to your teen, go to teachingsexualhealth.ca/parents/information-by-topic/understanding-consent/.
Practice skills dealing with conflict
Conflict can happen in healthy relationships. Your teen might find it hard to respond to conflict with their romantic partner, or they might not know what to do when they’re in an uncomfortable situation. Teach them how to handle conflict by communicating, problem-solving, and negotiating. Encourage them to plan what they’ll say and do by writing it down or rehearsing with someone they trust. Here are some practical ideas they can use:
- Say “I care about you, but I don’t want to do that.”
- Say something like “Not right now. I need some time to think about it.”
- Suggest an alternative activity everyone is comfortable with.
Think ahead about how you can support your teen through a break-up with their partner. Break-ups can come with intense feelings of pain, sadness, and loss. Listen to your teen and be there to support them as they grieve. If it seems like they’re really struggling, reach out to a counsellor or other mental health professional. You can call 811 to speak with a registered nurse, any time of day or night.
Know the warning signs of dating violence
Most teen romantic relationships are healthy, but sudden changes in your teen’s attitude or behaviour could be a sign something serious is going on. If your teen is dating, watch for these signs of a problem:
- Avoiding friends, family, and school activities
- Making excuses for their partner’s behaviour
- Being unable to relax when their partner is around, and constantly monitoring their reactions
- Having trouble maintaining school grades
- Losing interest in favourite activities
If you’re concerned your teen might be experiencing dating violence, talk with them about it. You can also reach out to a health professional, help line, or social service organization to get help. For a list of services in Alberta, go to teachingsexualhealth.ca/parents/resources/.
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