Teaching Kids about Healthy Relationships

Friday February 15, 2013

By Sherri M. Gordon

Yesterday was Valentine's Day - a day when we celebrate relationships. But unfortunately, not all relationships are worth celebrating. In fact, some are extremely unhealthy and that's worth talking about. For this reason dating violence prevention advocates have established February as Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month. As a result, I want to take this time to encourage parents to talk to their kids about healthy relationships.

Believe it or not there is a lot you can do to help them make good choices when it comes to dating relationships and it starts with a conversation. Start by keeping the lines of communication open. Ask about their day, their friends, their interests and their activities. The more you get your children to open up to you, the more you will be there to help them navigate difficult relationships. Also, don't wait until they are dating age to start talking. Do it now, while they still value your opinion.

Be sure you also talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and what an unhealthy one looks like. Also, let them know how to spot the early signs of dating abuse. Some warning signs include:

  • constant texting,
  • demanding to know where their partner is at all times,
  • wanting all the attention often at the expense of other friendships and outside activities
  • and extreme jealousy.

It's also a good idea to find out if the person your child is involved with bullies other people. Research has shown that boys who bully are likely to grow up to be adults who abuse their girlfriends and their wives. In fact, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that men who were bullies in school were four times more likely to physically abuse their partners.

If these elements are present in a relationship, they are usually pretty good indicators that the relationship is abusive or headed that way. So don't stay silent. Help your child see that this is unhealthy behavior. And encourage them to put some distance in the relationship before it moves to more controlling behaviors like name-calling, emotional abuse and even physical abuse.

By contrast, be sure to stress what healthy dating partners might be like. For instance, they will have a life outside of the relationship including sports or other activities, friendships and a family life. They also respect, encourage and support their partner's outside interests, friendships and activities. And lastly, a healthy partner is confident and secure and doesn't get overly jealous of others. The key is for kids to find someone who is kind and treats them with respect.

To supplement your talks, you may want to sit down with your kids and check out the on-line resource Love Is Respect. This site provides a safe and confidential space for young people to access information and help in an environment that is designed specifically for them. In the meantime, I hope you had a Happy Valentine's Day. And don't forget to talk to your kids. Doing so can ensure their future Valentine's Days are worth celebrating.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto


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