As a parent, you have a beautiful opportunity of watching your child grow and develop until they become truly themselves. Children transition through many stages in their lives, one of the most significant being adolescence (the teenage years). In this stage, it is fairly natural for a teenager to be interested in exploring romantic relationships. However, parents may often wonder how to speak to their children about this, how to protect them from getting hurt, when to set rules and when to give them freedom, etc. It can be tricky at times, but speaking to your child about this is a crucial step to ensuring they are prepared for safe, respectful and caring romantic relationships.
If you are a parent who often wonders when or how to have these discussions with your child, here are a few important aspects to keep in mind:
- When to start the discussion: It might be best to start having these conversations before your child starts dating. However, if you want to keep your child prepared from an early stage, you can also start this conversation when you feel your child is emotionally mature and able to understand the concepts of healthy relationships.
- Setting the context: Starting the conversations with your child need not be complicated. Try to be friendly, open and approachable during this talk, so that your child feels comfortable.
- How to start: You can start by telling him/her the topic of discussion and then ask them to think about various partnerships they have witnessed (for example, in their real life, or in movies, books, etc.) Ask them what they have observed in these relationships- both positives and negatives. Encourage open discussions and allow them to speak freely.
- Helping them understand: At times, children can be confused about what is natural in a relationship. So, you may have to explain to them clearly the difference between healthy relationships (for instance, respect, support, freedom, mutual decision-making, open communication) and unhealthy relationships (for instance, manipulation, harassment, degradation, intimidation, etc.)
- Teaching skills: Help your child develop skills of assertiveness, forming boundaries and solving problems effectively. You can ask example questions like, “what would you do if your partner yelled at you in front of the whole class?” or “If your friend feels intimidated by his/her partner, how would you help them out?” Be open while listening to the answers and work on options together.
- Give reassurance: At the end of your talk, you can encourage your child to come to you with any relationship-related concerns. Reassure him/her that you will be open, non-judgemental and accepting. If he/she doesn’t want to approach you first, work together in identifying other trustworthy adults (like family members, school counsellors, teachers) who your child can speak to.