When you were your child’s world it was exhausting, but so much simpler. Then they made friends and it was scary, but easier to protect them. Now your teen is ready for dating and you are most DEFINITELY NOT!
*imagination turns to panic*…. No, no, no, no!
How do you keep them safe?!
As a teen, I was looking for love in all the wrong places and had my share of toxic and even abusive relationships. This article (it’s a long one with lots of links so buckle up) includes the things I wished I’d had, and the evidence-based tools to build resilience, confidence and boundaries required for healthy relationships.
If your teen is already dating and you’re hearing this for the first time, it’s ok. You can start now!
Teenagers are less emotionally equipped for relationships than ever.
They define love by what they see through the media they’re exposed to all day long and it’s really frightening how that’s playing out. Not to mention social media and the world’s access to them.
We’ve got reality shows that literally prey on people’s lack of relationship skills while the world sits and watches those like with popcorn to see who crashes into the biggest ball of life disaster. They think that’s normal!
The teenage brain is already very insecure because their self-esteem drops up to 30%. That’s why they’re often attracted to unhealthy relationships because they’re just grabbing onto anything that feels “safe or loving” without a conscious framework for filtering potential partners out.
1) What you demonize, your teen will romanticize–making people or places taboo, bad, or off limits or makes them more seductive.
2) Trying to control your teen sets up behaviours like sneaking around and lying because you’re no longer a safe person to share with and your teen avoids judgement or criticism like the plague.
Those stem from projecting your anxiety fears onto your teen as justification. And if they step outside of the lane you’re trying to create, you can’t discipline your values into them, but you can drive them away trying.
Keep reading and I promise I’ll answer your question (if you skip to the end, you’ve missed the point).
1) Building self-esteem and confidence
This is one of the biggest pitfalls that gets up-ends a healthy dating experience. During your teen’s highly insecure years they need you to affirm their character and offer praise for what they do well, rather than constantly focusing on what they AREN’T doing YOUR way. The Gottman Institute recommends a minimum ratio of 3:1 for affirmative to corrective comments, which isn’t blowing smoke up their butt.
Parents who covet performance metrics and compliance with less focus on emotional connection or expression, increase anxiety and disconnection. One of the biggest experiences your teen is seeking is emotional connection where they feel appreciated and seen so you can either be that source or leave it to chance.
2) Understand your teenager’s love language (free quiz)
“But I already do all these things for them, and they don’t care!”.
That’s often the frustration when you’re naturally giving love in YOUR love language, yet your teen isn’t receiving it. When you understand how your teen’s brain is wired to receive love it becomes easier to connect and build their self-esteem.
3) Delight in your differences
Family culture is set by the parents and there’s a strong, unspoken current to be ‘like’ you or bad things happen. Is there room for your teen to be fully who they are?
If you are only celebrating your teenager’s similarities(which fills our egos), yet you’re dodging the differences because they make you uncomfortable (or scared to explore in case it turns into your worst nightmare, including the shame from family and friends), your teenager’s probably not going to feel loved, welcome, or seen.
Notice their uniqueness, their weirdness, their quirks, their differences and get curious about them. “I noticed you do__(fill in the blank)__and I don’t get that. Will you show me?”, or “I love how you do this differently.”
True belonging builds self-esteem and emotional safety so they can bring all of themselves, their mess, their differences, and they feel welcome and delighted in, rather than requiring them to abandon, deny, and suppress any part of themselves to feel loved, accepted or fit in with your family culture.
4) Listen more, talk less
If you’re more interested in interrupting, fixing, rescuing, correcting, or lecturing for teachable moments, your teen withdraws and seeks relationships where they do feel heard.
Create a space where your teenager can share their hot messes, while you listen as a trusted and safe person so they can process with to find their OWN answers. Be curious and compassionate with boundaries and keep your freak outvoice (and facial expressions) on the inside.
5) Help your teenager define what healthy relationships are for THEM
Create conversations about what trust and respect mean for them and how they feel when they’re present. What specific words, phrases or behaviours show up so they know?
Use TV shows, movies, or book characters to go deeper in the conversation without making it too personal at first or examining their current relationships and throwing those under the bus.
These discussions help your teenager build a lens to choose and prioritize relationships in their intellectual brain without you telling them who the can and can’t see or why. It also means they’re less likely to be hijacked by their emotional brain.
6) Normalize the 3rd bucket
Part of sexual development is exploring beyond the familial (1st) and platonic(2nd) relationships. Romantic relationships are the third bucket and it’s a normal part of their brain and body development with the change of hormones that accompany puberty regardless of how squeamish you are about it.
7) Normalise sexual development and sexual desires
It’s normal, it’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and your teen has never needed to know you love them more than in this stage. Whether it’s breasts, bras, and period underwear or wet dreams, erections during school, and showering with the sports team, it feels uncomfortable and embarrassing but there’s no escaping it.
It is normal to be physically attracted to people and get funky feelings in their body parts as part of sexual arousal. It’s what they DO with those urges and feelings where the conversation starts.
The second that you bring shame to this vulnerable development stage, your relationship with your teen is closed for business.
8) Teaching bodily autonomy and consent
How people treat their bodies is completely their prerogative, their choice. Shaming, manipulating, threatening, or coercing someone to treat their body in a way that you want them to is a hell no!
This includes pervasive messages using manipulation, coercion, or passive aggressive comments to get anyone to ‘be sexier’ i.e. dress a certain way, change hair/makeup, personal hygiene, send racy photos, etc.
Permission to say NO is ironically opposed to ‘compliance culture’ that’s still very pervasive in homes and schools. Saying NO is disrespectful most of a child’s life and then they’re expected to speak up when it comes to consent? That’s confusing.
Personal autonomy includes conversations around their existing network and online. No one has the right to tell them:
- who they can and cannot hang out with
- who they can hang out with or talk to
- teenager who they can and cannot follow on any social platform
- who they can and cannot post pictures of
- how to participate in their social media life
Now, to your original question.
9) How do I set boundaries around my teen dating?
this is the final part of the conversation in setting your teen up for success and keeping them safe, not the starting point.
Remember, boundaries aren’t for creating control, they’re for building respect. These are all conversations, not commands, to have with your teen to create mutual understand and find as much of a middle ground as possible (sometimes that’s different sides of the Grand Canyon).
House rules can fall under boundaries depending how they’re done, i.e.:
- closing doors in bedrooms
- being on the same floor of the of the house as you
- is the person they’re dating invited to dinner
- are they invited on family activities
Then there’s curfews, where they’re going and with whom. Teenagers have rather organic social lives that unfold in the moment so don’t get bent or assume they’re up to no good if they don’t have a minute-by-minute plan.
When your teen feels you hear their side and emotional drivers behind their desires/behaviour, they’re more likely to respect your boundaries even if they don’t agree.
PHEW! That’s a lot, I know. I never what to give you a half answer or gloss over key parts of setting your teen up for success so this topic was worth the extra words. FYI- these are the steps I took with our sons and although I can’t take ownership of their choices, they have amazing friends and we’ve never had a dating disaster.
If you’d like to know the SECRET to getting your teen to like AND listen to you, register for my FREE masterclass below. You’re not alone in this, I promise!