From butterflies to heartbreak and the space between

Young love can be exciting, terrifying, gleeful and miserable — and that’s just for the parents! Here’s how to navigate teen relationships and identify unhealthy relationships.

Young love can be exciting, terrifying, gleeful and miserable — and that’s just for the parents! Coping with your teen’s love connection means helping them navigate through a vulnerable, confusing and emotionally charged time.

Louise is a mother of two teenagers, Pearl, a high school freshman, and Derrick, an eighth-grader. She says her teens aren’t allowed to go on solo dates just yet, but that they have already begun asking questions about relationships. For Louise, it is important for her to have some answers.

“They are looking to us for guidance, and we want them to feel comfortable talking to us about anything,” Louise said. She and her husband have welcomed an “open door policy” when it comes to communicating with their kids about tough subjects.

“What has benefited us the most is not waiting for the right time to talk — the right time is all the time,” Louise said. Almost daily, the family discusses issues related to teen relationships.

No matter what stage they’re in, knowing how to address tough questions and situations is important for both the parent and the teen. Here’s what you can do to not only survive but thrive in handling your teen’s relationship.

Take it seriously!

In 20 years, your teen may look back on his first love and laugh about the emotions of a budding romance; however, in this moment, nothing could be more serious than this week’s crush or high school relationship. Don’t dismiss your teen’s feelings or say they aren’t real. Nothing could be further from the truth. Doing so can build walls, preventing communication or even push your teen deeper into an unhealthy or risky relationship.

“If it is serious to them, it is serious for the parent,” said Jenita Lyons, Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital.

Walk the talk

Insightful advice and an open ear can help a teen make the right decisions during these turbulent years; however, it may only be a temporary fix unless you are living by it, too. It is important for teens to have role models for healthy, strong relationships so that they know how to behave in and what to expect from their own relationships.

Louise says these shining examples can also be extended family members and friends of the parents. Exposing your children to your adult friends and family who are in healthy relationships gives them more examples to draw from and is important for developing their sense of self.

Choose your battles

We all know teenage years can be unpredictable. Knowing when to step in and when to let your teen make their own decisions is a part of their growth and your sanity.

“It’s one of the harder things to do as a parent, but it is important to give them room to make mistakes and figure things out on their own,” Lyons said.

However, from the parent’s perspective, Louise advises that parents should be willing and able to make tough decisions for their teen in order to help in the long run. This is especially true should you notice behaviors that are unhealthy.

Lyons recommends speaking with your teen if you start to see any of these behaviors, which could be signs of an unhealthy relationship:
•Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
•Drop in grades or academic performance
•Withdrawing from friends and family
•Extreme jealousy
•One of the teens in the relationship is controlling
•Unexplained bruises and/or injuries

What to do if your teen is in an unhealthy relationship

One in three young people report experiencing some form of abuse in their dating relationships. If you think your teen is in an unhealthy relationship, it’s your job to step in and put a stop to it. Your teen may not know what to expect out of a relationship, so teach them what makes a healthy relationship:

Trust: You should trust your partner and his/her commitment to you. Jealousy is natural, but it should not rule your emotions or behaviors with your partner.
Support: Relationships should be supportive and not damaging. That support should be there in good times and in bad.
Individuality: Young love makes it easy for teens to want to spend every moment with their partner; however, teens should not lose who they are and what makes them unique individuals. Encourage your teen to continue their hobbies and activities when in a relationship as a way to build a well-rounded sense of self.
Communication: Teens should be comfortable communicating with their partner about their feelings. Honest and open communication will grow a healthy relationship.

There are no easy answers for parents raising teenagers. And, while the subject of relationships can send a parent running, it is important to support your teen during these formative years. Open, effective communication can give your teen the ear they need to listen and the armor they need to act.

– Tracy Keller

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