Parenting Tip: Talking to Teens About Healthy Relationships

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and while talking about domestic violence is uncomfortable, it is an important conversation to have with your teens. More than 1 in 5 high school students experience dating violence, so it’s important to talk about healthy relationships and behaviors with your teens sooner rather than later.

Teen years are often when young adults experience dating relationships for the first time. The lessons learned by teens during these years can set the tone for their relationships for the rest of their lives. As a parent, make use this of critical time and teach teens to learn about healthy relationships. First, it’s important to know the facts.

Facts about Dating Violence

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen dating violence is more common than you may think. Every year, nearly 1.5 million high schoolers experience physical abuse at least one time from a dating partner. One in ten high school students have been purposefully hit, slapped or otherwise hurt by a boyfriend and girlfriend. That ratio climbs astronomically when talking about teenage girls: nationally, one in three girls in the U.S. are victims of dating abuse.

It’s important to start talking to your teen about healthy relationships as soon as you are comfortable. According to research from the American Bar Association, violent behavior most often begins between the ages of 12 and 18. Similarly, a survey of college students in 2010 showed that more than half of students believe dating violence is difficult to identify and 58% of respondents said that they don’t know what to do to help. By talking to your children about dating violence and healthy relationships, you can help equip your teens with the knowledge they need to safely navigate dating relationships.

How can I start the conversation?

Talking to your teen about these topics can be difficult. The best thing you can for your teen is by modeling healthy, respectful relationships in your own life. Beyond that, here are some tips on how you can broach the conversation:

  • Participate in your teen’s life. Know who they’re friends with, what their interests are, and who they want to be. Find activities the two of you can do together and use those opportunities for bonding and conversation.
  • Use teachable moments. Whether they’re in movies, TV shows, songs or the news, there are always teachable moments about relationships. Use that scene, lyric, or story from a friend to start a conversation with your teen.
  • Clearly share your values. Let your teen know what a healthy relationship looks like according to your own values. Make sure they know that you don’t tolerate abusive language or behavior, and neither should they!
  • Be open. If you want your teen to be open with you, you need to be open with them as well. Discuss your own values and expectations for relationships, and use yourself as an example to get your point across.

Need some help? Futures Without Violence has created some really useful tools for parents. If you need some help starting the conversation with your teen, check out these resources: