It’s the moment many parents dread: your teenager has been asked out on their first date.
You may feel like they’re too young (let’s be honest, you think anything younger than 30 years old is too young) but they are over the moon to be going out with their crush. This is uncharted territory for you.
How do you keep teens safe as they reach dating age? You’ve been teaching your kid about body safety for a long time now; you taught them to use the proper names of body parts, they know that it’s not ok for anyone to make them feel uncomfortable, and they know they can talk to you about anything. Your conversations have matured and become more complex over the years, but dating? That’s a new one.
Or maybe you haven’t had conversations around body safety—that’s ok. It’s never too late to start! As your teen becomes more interested in romantic relationships, sit down with them and talk about it. Even if it feels awkward or difficult (because teenagers), open conversations with you, the safe adult in their life, can help them navigate romantic relationships in a positive way.
So where do you start? The first thing is to make sure your teen knows what acceptable and unacceptable behavior is. You also want to make sure they can make informed decisions and recognize potentially dangerous situations.
Here are a couple of topics to discuss:
- Consent: Asking for and receiving consent is key! Consent is affirmative permission to do something. It’s not permanent permission- teach your teens that they can revoke consent at any time, and that consent needs to be present for every activity. Consent isn’t implied through an attitude or a type of clothing, and it can’t be given while under the influence. A person only consents when they give a clear, positive response.
- Respecting Boundaries: If consent isn’t given (for anything), teach your teen to be ok with that. It’s never ok to force someone to do something. It’s also never ok to make someone feel bad for holding their boundaries. Maintaining boundaries and feeling comfortable enough to speak up about your needs actually makes the relationship safer, because you build trust with one another. It’s a sign of respect.
- Clear Communication and Honesty: Empower your teen to make their needs and boundaries known. When a person communicates clearly, there’s no question as to consent, and each partner will be able to truly understand the other’s perspectives.
- Empathy: Empathy is when you identify with another person’s thoughts, feelings, or attitudes. By empathizing with their partner, your teen will learn to look beyond themselves and recognize the other’s needs. How do you teach a teen to cultivate empathy? Model it for them yourself.
The teenage years can be an emotional rollercoaster and navigating new romantic feelings can be tricky. Teens may not even want to take advice from the adults in their life. However, it’s still our responsibility to keep teens safe from abuse. We can do that through having honest conversations, modeling healthy boundaries, and honoring consent ourselves.