Special to GUIDON
Media has the power to shape what teens believe a healthy relationship looks like. Dangerous behaviors within relationships are even romanticized at times. In response, parents sometimes try to protect their teenage children from what they deem to be unhealthy or inappropriate by placing restrictions on their access to social media. It’s important to remember, however, when they are “restricted” from something, teens often want it even more.
As a parent, save yourself some time and heartache. Try focusing less on restriction and more on using the thoughts or behaviors you perceive as unhealthy as a springboard for open dialogue with your child. Thankfully, pop culture and social media also provide us with a multitude of opportunities to begin those conversations.
Here are some tips for how and when to have these conversations:
Listen and learn
The first step is to learn more about what your teen believes are healthy and unhealthy characteristics of a relationship. Have your teen teach you what they believe is healthy and unhealthy. This may require you to do less talking and more listening. Here are some sample questions to get that conversation started:
— What qualities in a person make for a good partner?
— What would you think if the person you were dating required you to have their permission to go somewhere?
— Do you know of a couple that has a healthy relationship? Tell me more about why their relationship appears healthy to you.
— Have you ever witnessed dating abuse? What did you think when you saw the abusive behavior?
Show good faith
The second step is to have a conversation while watching their favorite television series or while listening to music together. Be mindful not to interrupt and start talking over what they are focusing on. Ask them to pause it for a minute and casually say, “Hey, I want to learn more about this song,” or “tell me more about this show.”
Follow their lead if they seem open to sharing with you, and use the opportunity to ask questions with the intent of listening and understanding. You will want to avoid analyzing, interrupting, lecturing or accusing them. Here are some sample questions you can put in your own words to get that conversation started:
— What do you like about how the main character speaks to or interacts with their significant other?
— How would you want your partner to approach you if you had the same argument as the characters in this series?
— What couple on this show has a healthy relationship? Are there any relationships that you feel are unhealthy. Tell me more about that.
— How should the characters communicate differently when they disagree on an issue?
The third step is to never be a know-it-all. An informed parent is a step ahead in navigating difficult conversations. Think about how to prepare yourself with the latest information on what media venues your kids are using.
For instance, do you know what the latest challenges are on TikTok? What items does your teen want to purchase, and are they heavily influenced by something they’ve seen on social media? Are you aware of who your teen’s celebrity crush is?
To further prepare for the conversation, show an interest in your teen’s world and learn something new every day. Utilize some time in your day to truly connect with your child, and have them show you their favorite app on their phone. Ask them to teach you their favorite TikTok dance. Keep your interactions lighthearted and be prepared to embarrass yourself because the response you get may be, “gosh, mom, you are so old!”
Above all, support them
If you suspect your teen is in an abusive relationship, approach them without judgement and show your support. Tell them there is help. Direct them to the Family Advocacy Program, or call the Family Violence Response Line at 573.596.0446. To chat with a peer advocate, visit loveisrespect.org, call 866.331.9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522.
(Editor’s note: Simmons is a Family Advocacy Program specialist.)