Supporting Healthy Dating Relationships for Young People: Part Two
Natalie Stigall Education and Outreach Specialist
We shared some best practices for building a strong foundation for healthy relationships with youth who aren’t ready for dating recently. But how can we as adult influencers keep the momentum going—and the lines of communication open—when our teens and young adults begin having crushes, going on dates, and seeking out romantic partners? Let’s continue our Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month series with a discussion on supporting and empowering young people in dating relationships.
You’ll find guidelines and tips for adults who are navigating life with a dating teen or young adult below, but there is a strong undercurrent that runs through each of these points: open communication. The best way to check in on your young person’s safety is to maintain an honest dialogue with them. Abusers often use isolation and gaslighting as tools of control over their survivor, and many young survivors don’t reach out because they are afraid of judgment or punishment from the adults in their lives. By fostering open and honest communication between yourself and teens, you are eliminating a powerful barrier to seeking help if that young person ever needs it.
- Set boundaries together, as a family
It is natural to want to set boundaries to keep young people safe and encourage balance in their lives. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be part of the conversation! When you are considering your guidelines as an adult, invite your teen into that process. Ask them what would make them comfortable or uncomfortable; encourage them to ask questions about the boundaries you set; and talk with them about why you feel these guidelines are important. This makes the process collaborative rather than authoritative, and helps young people feel empowered to set boundaries in all their relationships.
- Treat young relationships with respect
Ban the phrase “puppy love” from your vocabulary. A lot of adults have trouble seeing relationships between teens and young people as “real.” It’s easy to assume that because teens don’t usually live together or share financial responsibilities, or even just because they’re young, their relationships aren’t serious. When we do this, we are belittling the strong feelings and connections young adults experience, and potentially dismissing abuse or harm that may be occurring as “teen drama.”
- Trust is key—for everyone!
Remember when we talked about setting boundaries with your young person rather than for them? The second part of that step is establishing trust between you and your teen that these guidelines will be respected by both of you. It might be tempting to check their phones or rooms to find out what they’re up to, but that can do more harm than good! How can we expect young people to open up to us when they have a problem if they can’t trust us to respect their most basic right to privacy?
Above all, it’s important to understand that there might be topics that a young person just doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about. But, if you provide them with other options to seek the information and support they need—whether it’s another, trusted adult or an outside resource—you’ll know they’re getting safe and accurate information. Here are some resources for teens and young adults:
- Love is Respect: Online resource for teens and young adults with information on dating violence and healthy relationships. 24/7 access to peer advocates via talk, text, or chat functions.
- The Bridge: We offer free services for survivors of any age, with parent or guardian consent.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.