Posts

I was sitting at my middle school son’s football game. Some parents around me were discussing who was dating who in the school. I kept quiet during the conversation, but was anxiously waiting for them to mention my son. They did. I was astonished and a little embarrassed because I was totally unaware my son was “dating.” I knew for a fact he didn’t go anywhere with anyone. That’s what I consider “dating.” All he did was talk on his phone. 

How does that constitute dating? 

As soon as we left the game, I must confess I blindsided him with the question, “How is your girlfriend?” [Mom Smirk.] He gave me one of those looks only a teenager could give. “Mom, I don’t have a girlfriend.” [Teen Eye Roll.] “That’s not what I heard.” The more we went back and forth, the more frustrated he became, and the angrier I became. He was ADAMANT  he didn’t have a girlfriend. Truth be told, I was confused. I soon recognized that not believing him was damaging our relationship

How could I have prevented this from happening? 

Could I have better engaged my son in a conversation about his “romantic relationship?”

How can my misstep help you?

⇨ Related: 6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

Learn The Language

This is a time when the teacher becomes the student. Be humble and allow your teen to teach you the new relationship lingo. Your willingness to learn and listen shows you respect your teen’s perspective and you care about what’s going on in their world. 

Recognize and Accept Things Have Changed

When your teen says things have changed, believe them. The words and labels they use—DIFFERENT. The modes of communication they use—DIFFERENT. The definition of relationships—DIFFERENT. Trying to impose the “old way” on them will be met with rolled eyes, resistance, or worse. 

Be An Askable Parent When You Talk to Your Teen About Romantic Relationships

Take time to listen. Be open and genuine. You might hear some “stuff” that shocks or surprises you. You have to use your poker face. You’ll be tempted to turn a conversation into an interrogation. If your teen perceives a negative reaction from you or gets bombarded with a billion questions or a long lecture, it can cause them to stop talking and create distance.

⇨ Related: How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

Build Up Your Relationship

Cultivating and maintaining your relationship with your teen provides space for this conversation. As your teen grows, your relationship with them should grow from more directive to coaching them through life and relationships. The more you try to control or force a relationship with your teen, the more they can pull away from you. 

If your teen says they are in a romantic relationship, here are some conversation starters to ask your teen:

  1. Are you able to be yourself in the relationship?
  2. Do you show respect and feel respected in your relationship?
  3. Do you have realistic expectations about the relationship?
  4. Are you feeling pressured in your relationship?
  5. Do you feel you have the time to devote to the relationship?

The key to guiding your teen through romantic relationships is to stop being a talkative parent and become a parent your teen wants to talk to. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your teen builds and supports the relationship

Sure, “dating” might look different now, but there is still no substitute for a close, healthy relationship with your teen.

Check out some other blogs on healthy dating habits here:

Just wait until they turn 13, they said. Yeah, they’re cute now, but the day is coming, they said. Then my daughter turned 13. And I admit, the days are a lot more unpredictable when you have a middle school daughter. I never know whether I’ll be driving Jekyll or Hyde home from school on any given afternoon. Hair colors change from day to day, moods change from minute to minute. One moment they are cuddling in your lap like they did when they were 3; the next moment they’re rolling their eyes at you and holing themselves up in their room. 

Can you relate?

It’s a confusing time for middle school girls—they’re caught somewhere between being a little girl and wanting to be an independent young adult. They are seesawing between the two at any given moment. 

It’s a confusing time for us dads, too, for obvious reasons. On the one hand, it’s hard to know what to expect out of your daughter. But more than that, it’s easy to feel like your role as a dad carries less weight than it once did. As a dad of a middle schooler, sometimes I feel like I’m a benched player when I was once a starting quarterback. 

Well, as a fellow dad-of-daughters, I’m here to say that you (and I) are still in the game. And I’d like to share some words of encouragement for being the best dad you can for your middle school daughter. 

Your daughter needs you to spend time with her.

Yes, she wants to exercise a lot more independence. She wants her space, her privacy. But your middle school daughter also desires to spend time with you. I mean good, quality time where she has your undivided attention. She not only wants to know you love her, but also that you like her, you like being with her, hanging out with her. Make time to do your favorite things together. Go on a coffee date, chow down on greasy cheeseburgers, take a hike, watch a movie, jam to music in the car (both yours and hers). If you haven’t already, find the activity that is going to be “your thing together.” (My daughter and I have “our” TV show that we watch together.) If you do have “your thing together,” go ahead now and make plans to do it again soon. (No, like, right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait here…

Your daughter needs you to listen.

It used to be that I could sit my daughter down and teach her all kinds of wisdom and “life lessons,” and she’d hang on to my every word. At 13, that doesn’t work quite as well anymore; “life lessons” come across more like lectures or replays of what’s been said before. But where my daughter and I do connect nowadays is when she comes to me to talk. I’ve found the key is to do a lot less “lesson-giving” and a lot more listening. Listen to understand. Ask questions to get an idea of where she’s coming from, how she’s feeling. And always, always let her know that she can come to you anytime with anything on her mind… and you won’t respond with any kind of judgment or ridicule.

And a funny thing happens sometimes: in the course of simply listening to my daughter, somehow a nugget of wisdom will slip through the cracks and get heard by her. Amazing how that works.

Your daughter needs you to affirm her. 

Lots of changes are happening in your middle school daughter’s life: brain development, friendships, body changes, emotions. It’s just a normal part of her development. But when your daughter experiences these changes, it can cause her to be unsure of herself, and she needs a regular boost of confidence. This is where you come in.

All middle school daughters need to hear certain things from their dads. Let her know how intelligent you think she is, how creative, how bright. Tell her that anyone would be lucky to have her as a friend. Don’t shy away from complimenting her physical appearance in an appropriate way: her hair, her eyes, how tall she’s getting. (My daughter is an avid cross country runner, and she beams whenever I ask her to flex her leg muscles and show me how strong she is.) Let her know she grows more and more beautiful every day. (Seriously—she needs to specifically hear the word beautiful applied to her.)

Affirming who she is and who she is growing to be can make all the difference in how your middle school daughter feels about herself and her future. 

Your daughter needs you to be interested in her world.

Her world in middle school is more complex than when she was younger. She’s discovering what she likes and dislikes, trying new interests, and devoting more time to activities she can call her own. It’s important to remember she considers this part of her space, her world; but, she wants you to come over and visit often.

Ask her questions about what interests her. Allow her to be the expert on whatever it is she’s into. Ask her to tell you about her best friend, how she goes about putting color in her hair, or what’s going on in the reality show she watches. The trick is to show genuine interest without seeming intrusive or nosy. And you certainly want to avoid coming across as judgy of her friends or interests. Showing interest in her world tells her that you are interested in her and that she means a lot to you. 

Your daughter needs you to believe in her.

Here’s something I realized about my daughter not too long ago: it’s possible that she’s going to do something later in her life that will absolutely change the world. I have no idea what that might be. Maybe she’ll help heal people as a doctor, or write award-winning screenplays, or solve some major crisis in a far-off country. And the same possibility holds true with your daughter as well.

Here’s the question I have to ask myself: when that time comes around, do I want my daughter to look back and see that her daddy believed in her every step of the way

Absolutely I do. 

And I’m sure you want the same for your daughter as well. Let her know you believe she’s capable of making a difference in the world around her, both now and in the future. 

Dads, I’m asking you to join me in the mission of being the best dad you can be for your middle school daughter.

Let me leave you with a sobering thought: this is the stage when it’s the easiest to pull away from your daughter but is possibly the most crucial stage to stay in the pocket. You’re still in the game and called to play it strong. Your middle school daughter needs you, whether she’s Jekyll or Hyde on a given day. Now, go eat some greasy cheeseburgers with her and tell her she’s beautiful. 

For more great information on being the best dad for your daughter, check out the links below:

When my wife and I thought our daughter was ready to date, our daughter was in panic mode before the first boy came to pick her up. She wasn’t worried about the boy; she was worried about me

Dad, are you going to grill him and ask him a million questions?

No Sweetie. I’m just going to ask him one question.

Really Dad? Just one question? Wow!

Yup. “Where are WE going?”

Not funny, Dad.

The reality is that WE aren’t going anywhere. THEY are. How do you know if your teen has a healthy understanding of dating, how to get to know someone, and will exercise healthy dating habits? Here’s a little quiz for your teen to pass before they start dating that will also provide you as a parent with some great talking points.

ARE YOU READY TO START DATING?

1. What is the purpose of dating?

  1. To have fun.
  2. To find someone to marry.
  3. There is no purpose. It’s just what teens do.
  4. To learn how to get to know someone.

Answer Key: Although you want your teen to have fun while dating (a lot of fun), the best answer here is, “To learn how to get to know someone.” Make sure your teen knows that there is a level of “fakeness” built into dating, especially at the beginning. This doesn’t mean people are being deceptive or dishonest, BUT both parties are trying to put the best version of themselves forward while possibly (probably) hiding parts of their real self and any of their flaws. Everyone is trying to sell an image of themselves. Getting to know someone takes time. It means seeing them in a variety of situations and paying attention to how they treat a variety of people—besides you. Oh, and marriage is like 15 years away.

2.  How long does it take to really get to know someone?

  1. First impressions are everything. 
  2. Their social media accounts show who they really are.
  3. Five or so dates.
  4. It really depends.

Answer Key: First impressions are important but can be totally misleading. So can social media. Some people post about their friends, family, hobbies, and little snapshots of their life. Some people create and curate a digital self-image that is far from reality. The bottom line is that it really depends. Assuming they treat your teen great because they are interested in them, your teen wants to watch for the following in who they date.

Watch for how they…

  • Treat their parents.
  • Act when they’re told, “No.”
  • Treat their siblings.
  • Treat their friends.
  • Respond to criticism.
  • Treat authority figures.
  • Treat people who wrong them.
  • Handle when things go wrong.
  • Treat people in need.
  • Respond to disagreements.

3. Your main goal in a dating relationship should be:

  1. Developing social skills
  2. Taking your time
  3. Growing emotionally
  4. Staying true to yourself

Answer Key: Trick question! Your teen’s goal in a dating relationship should be all of the above! If any of those things are NOT happening, it’s a bad sign. They should be growing into their best self. They shouldn’t feel rushed or pressured into anything, and their social skills should be developing as they learn how to interact with people. 

4. If there isn’t anybody in your life you’re truly interested in dating…

  1. Settle for the best you can get
  2. Explore online dating sites
  3. Lower your standards
  4. Hang out with your friends and pursue other interests

Answer Key: Your teen never wants to settle or lower their standards just so they can be dating someone. And they have no business being on some online dating site.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with not dating. Lots of people aren’t doing it. Your teen is probably avoiding a ton of drama while they have more time to hang out with their friends and pursue their interests, hobbies, and passions. And let’s not forget school. And more family time. It’s better to not be dating at all than to be dating the wrong person. Don’t settle!

5.  The best qualities or traits that you bring into dating are your…

  1. Hotness and popularity
  2. Personality and sense of humor
  3. Character and values
  4. Maturity and intelligence

Answer Key: Anything except (A.) is a great answer! Any fisherman will tell you that the bait you use will determine what you catch. Before your teen is ready to get to know someone else, they need to know who they are. They need to value and respect themselves, understand their strengths and growth areas, and have a strong sense of identity. Ask them follow-up questions about their personality, character, values, and maturity. Make them be as specific as possible and cultivate their self-awareness.

6.  “Red Flags” in a dating relationship would include…

The person…

  1. Constantly wants to know where you are and who you’re with.
  2. Tries to keep you away from your family and friends.
  3. Pressures you to go beyond your personal boundaries.
  4. Tells you how to dress.
  5. Tells you who you can be friends with or talk to.
  6. Puts you down a lot, even in a “joking” way.
  7. Blames you for every relationship problem or issue.
  8. Is not dependable, trustworthy, or honest.
  9. Makes you feel like you can’t be yourself with them.
  10. Makes you nervous that you’re going to do something to upset them or make them mad all the time.
  11. Wants to check your phone to see who you are talking to.

Answer Key: There are more “red flags” but those are all some important ones. What you want is for your teen to have healthy dating habits and be able to recognize a healthy relationship, an unhealthy relationship, and an abusive relationship. You want to know that your teen has a strong sense of their boundaries—both emotionally and physically—and can stick to them. The two of you might want to agree on a code word or phrase that if they say it in a call or text while on a date, you know they need to get out of a situation immediately.

You can’t get your teen ready for dating with a quiz. What you want is an ongoing conversation that continues throughout their dating life and sets them up for healthy dating habits. You know your teen better than anybody. You can help them get the fundamentals of dating so that dating is a healthy part of their teenage years that helps prepare them for adulthood. Trust me, you’ve got this!

Check out some other blogs on healthy dating habits here:

When Should I Let My Child Date?

What to Do When You Don’t Like Who Your Teen is Dating

10 Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Tips for Setting Dating Standards With Your Teens

10 Steps for a Low-Risk Teen Dating Strategy

FACT #1: There’s nothing like being the dad of a daughter. 


FACT #2: To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad. 

I’ll be honest: both times my wife and I were pregnant, I was hoping for a boy. I was an only child, and I had no idea how to navigate the world of tutus, dolls, fingernail polish, or Disney princesses. But after my first daughter was born, and even more so after my second, I can tell you I wouldn’t trade it for anything

There is truly a special bond between a dad and daughter. It’s hard to explain. To know what I do—my presence, my attention, my support, my compassion for my daughters—will be carried with them through their entire lives is both a massively overwhelming mission and a wonderfully great privilege.

And if you were to look up the research on dads and daughters, you’d find a warm, affectionate relationship between the two does indeed help a young girl thrive and develop. Fathers leave a legacy with their daughters which positively informs their identity, confidence, body image, assertiveness, mental health, and problem-solving skills. Not to mention, being the first man in your daughter’s life, you are the one who teaches her the level of respect, love, and treatment she deserves from the opposite sex. 

Fellow dads out there, we’ve got a mission. 

How can a dad foster a strong connection with his daughter? Here are five ways to be the best dad for your daughter: 

1. Be present.

Not just in the same room or in the car picking her up from preschool. I mean, be truly present. Engage with your daughter. Talk, interact, ask questions. There’s a big difference between sitting on the same couch and directing your attention toward your daughter. She needs to know you are interested in her. She will beam when you ask her questions and show an interest in the things she is interested in—tutus, Disney princesses, and all. 

2. Take your daughter on dates.

I can’t stress this enough. Even when they are barely walking, daddy-daughter dates hold a special place in her heart. These are the opportunities for your little girl to experience “out there” with you, at the pizza place, the park, the movie theater, fishing, the hiking trail. It gives her the experience of seeing how you operate and behave outside the home, with other people in other places, while knowing your attention is solely on her. So much positive development and socialization results from this kind of quality time with you.

3. Hug, cuddle, and hold hands.

Your daughter needs a positive, comforting touch from you. She gains a sense of warmth, protection, and security when you wrap your arm around her or give her a big goodnight smooch at bedtime. Many daughters love tickle fights and wrestling matches. (Dads need to be wary of how far these go; always give them an easy “way out” of a pin or hold so they don’t feel trapped. Otherwise, the touch turns from feeling protective to overly vulnerable.) There’s power in a dad’s touch which can be used to strengthen the connection with his daughter.

4. Build her up.

Never miss the opportunity for genuine encouragement, compliments, and praise. Just like there is power in your touch, there is also power in a dad’s words. Your daughter loves to impress you, whether it’s with her artwork, her dancing skills, or her knowledge of Disney princesses. Showing your accolades helps her to develop confidence and esteem. Encourage her to keep trying when she can’t quite get something right, like tying her shoes, learning how to spell a word or learning to jump hurdles; this helps her to build grit and determination. 

5. Tell her “I love you,” often.

Dads, your daughter can’t hear these words enough. As my girls have gotten older, I’ve come to realize I don’t tell them this because I necessarily want them to know it in the moment; I tell them I love you because I want them to remember how true it is when I’m not with them. These words give your daughter security and comfort, especially when you are away. Make a habit of telling them this in the most unexpected moments. 

To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad.

You are one-of-a-kind to her, the first and most important man of her life. Yes, the mission is daunting. But you’ve got what it takes to be a great dad. Your daughter believes in you, so go out there and prove her right. And don’t be afraid to wear a tutu while watching a Disney princess movie every now and then. (You might even get your fingernails painted for free!)

Image from Pexels.com

How do you increase communication in your home and make sure everyone’s connected?

When healthy communication is happening in the family, everyone feels connected and part of the same team. All the gears are synched up, your family is firing on all cylinders and is headed in the same direction. There are regular check-ins to make sure balls don’t get dropped and you aren’t surprised about projects or performances. If there are issues that need to be addressed with the whole family, you are able to get everyone together and effectively address them. You and your spouse have plenty of time to express needs and concerns and feel heard and also have time to chat and stay connected.  

There are two parts to getting connected and bonded together and building those strong relationships. The first is being intentional about one-on-one communication with each member of the family and the other is having good consistent communication together as a whole family. It would be nice to want this, snap your fingers and BOOM, life is golden. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. You’ll need to be intentional in your efforts and it will probably take some time to turn the ship. But the payoff can be life-changing for your family. This is so totally doable! You just have to tweak a few things.

1. One-On-One Communication.

Start here. Make time to hang out. Watch your kids play some video games, ask them to go run an errand with you, or take them out for ice cream. Car rides are magical communication times—the ride to school, practice, a friend’s house—these are all primo talking opportunities. (Some family members are extroverted and will be talking your ears off. Don’t forget your more quiet, introverted family members. You might have to make an extra effort to connect with them.) Some parents make the ride to school a tech-free zone to promote conversation in the car.

The basics of communication are speaking and listening, and there are ways to get better at both of them. They are learned skills you can improve on, but before we even get into that—communication usually happens organically when you are together

2. Family Communication at Home.

Same rules apply. Communication usually happens organically when you are together—it’s just a matter of how do you get everyone together? I know everyone is super busy (maybe that has to be addressed) but try to carve out at least a few times a week when you eat together with phones turned off. (I’m gonna give you some conversation starters so it isn’t just awkward silence.)

Family game nights, family movie nights, family outings to a park—these usually lead to some good ole’ fashioned chit-chat. Check out this Parenting Toolkit: A Family Guide To The Best Summer Ever! It’s filled with ideas for activities, conversation-starters, plus each activity is geared toward learning an important relationship skill. Check out other family resources HERE.

If your family is going in a lot of different directions, weekly family meetings can decrease drama and encourage open communication as you talk about the family calendar, who needs to be where, when projects are due and require parental assistance, etc. Family meetings are also a way to empower your kids and encourage open communication. Anybody can request a family meeting if there is an urgent issue they believe needs to be discussed. In general, family meetings should be fun, short, and involve everyone. You want two-way communication, not a lecture. You are looking for feedback from everyone. Follow it up with a fun activity.

How do you get better at communication in general?

Here’s the insider info to get you communicating like a pro. We covered the need to be together, but now what? (If you have teens, check this out.)

The Speaking Part of Communication in Your Home

So how was your day?

Okay.” 

[Conversation over.]

Here are five things you can ask instead of, “How was your day?” You don’t want to be a criminal interrogator; you want to be a conversation initiator. Big difference. This means open-ended questions, asking “what makes you think that?” or saying “tell me more” quite a bit. It means sometimes answering questions with questions, then listening for what is hiding underneath a question or statement and following up on it. The goal is to understand where your child is coming from. When they feel like you “get” them, they are much more likely to open up to you.

Work on being more observant. Notice I didn’t say, “private investigator.” You want to be a conversation instigator. What are your family members (including your spouse) into? What makes them light up? How do they spend their free time? Where do they put their energy? If you have younger ones, get on the floor and play with them. Step into the world of your family members with sincere questions. Then really listen.

The Listening Part of Communication in Your Home.

Be available for when your family members want to talk to you. Avoid distractions and interruptions. Give your full attention. (Put yourself in their shoes. Ask clarifying questions. Ask questions that take the conversation deeper. Model the kind of communication you want to have. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) People love talking to a good listener.

There are books filled with conversation starters and the internet is filled with lists of questions for kids of every age and for couples. Invest in a few books or click around for some lists. They’re great for road trips and pillow talk. Just when you think you know all there is to know about somebody, one of these questions will take you into new territory and they are tons of fun.

27 Family Conversation Starters

  1. If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go and why?
  2. If I could do one thing to be a better parent to you, what would it be?
  3. What do you worry about the most? Why?
  4. What will you do when you graduate high school?
  5. When was a time that you were kind to someone else?
  6. What is the best thing about our family?
  7. Who is someone you admire right now? Why?
  8. What is the “lesson” or “takeaway” from your favorite book or movie?  
  9. What do you think about tattoos and piercings?
  10. How common do you think cheating is at school? What do you think about cheating?
  11. What is the biggest factor in being successful at school?
  12. Is it better to be optimistic or realistic? Why?
  13. What do you like about you?
  14. Have I ever not noticed when you were sad?
  15. What makes someone popular?
  16. What is one thing you would try if you were completely fearless?
  17. How do you react when your feelings are hurt? Does it help?
  18. What do you think about the drinking age?
  19. Who gets bullied or teased at school? Why?
  20. How should someone handle it if they are bullied?
  21. What do you like best about your friends?
  22. Is there anything you don’t like about your friends?
  23. What is the hardest part about being a kid?
  24. How is love/marriage different in real life than in the movies?
  25. What is the hardest thing about being a girl? Being a boy?
  26. Do you have friends with different religious beliefs?
  27. What do you think about that? How will you know if you’ve had a successful life?

★ Good communication in your home doesn’t happen by accident. But you can absolutely increase the quality AND quantity of communication in your family. You got this!

Image from Freepik.com

You overheard something. You saw something. Maybe you had a gut feeling. So you just came out and asked your teen, “Are you having sex?” You were greeted with a “duh” face and a “yes.” You kept your cool and said, “Can we talk about this? Soon?

Now you are processing a bunch of emotions and running scenarios through your mind. 

And you’re thinking about that talk. What are you going to say? Then what?

You can get through this! Let’s take these in order:

Your Emotional Response:

This could be hitting you in a deeply personal way: Maybe because of your religious values. Maybe because you don’t want your teen to make the same mistakes you did. 

Maybe because you know all the possible consequences. Let’s face it—you may have just found out that you don’t know your teen as well as you thought you did. Maybe you are running through everything you did as a parent and trying to figure out where you went wrong.

You are going to have to sort yourself out first. Feelings of guilt, anger, disappointment, fear, and confusion are totally understandable, but they are not a healthy place for you to camp out and you are going to have to let go of them if you’re going to move forward with your teen in a healthy, productive manner. Remember, your teen might be trying to process a giant payload of emotions right now and you need to be able to help them.

Your Emotions In Perspective:

The reality is that you could have been The Best Parent Ever©  and your teen could still choose to have sex. (Biologically—they are ready, hormones are racing through their body, they occupy a culture preoccupied with sex, their peers might be exerting pressure on them, alcohol or drugs may have diminished their capacity to choose.) 

The flip side is also true. You could be the kind of parent that doesn’t know where their teen is at 11:30 on a school night and your teen could choose a life of chastity up until their wedding day. 🔎 Teens are young adults who make choices of their own despite our best parenting efforts. Let yourself off the hook and let’s start moving forward.

The Scenarios Running Through Your Mind:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Was your teen pressured into this?
  • Were alcohol and/or drugs involved?
  • Do they even understand “consent?”
  • Are they or did they get someone pregnant?
  • Do they have an STD now? They think they are invincible!
  • What is the legal age of consent in our state?
  • Is this relationship serious or was it just a “hook up?”

These are all legitimate questions. And you’ll get to them in time. But first and foremost, you need to be thinking about your teen—their mind, heart, body, and that talk.

“That Talk” or “Your Opportunity To Build A Deeper Relationship With Your Teen”

☆ When you feel like you have your emotions in check, your mind isn’t racing, and you can find a time and place where neither of you will be distracted or interrupted, then it’s time to talk with your teen. Remember, this is a chance to build a deeper relationship with them. Some rules: No lecturing. No interrogating. No “How could you’s?” Got ‘em?

You want to be a parent that your teen feels like they can move toward. (Literally and figuratively.) This means paying attention to your body language, the volume, and tone of your voice, reserving judgment, actively listening, communicating compassion for your teen, and having a true dialogue with them.

You need some goals. 

This is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing dialogue. Remember not to interrogate but to probe gently as you actively listen to their responses. Don’t try to cover all of this in one talk and be done with talking to your teen about sex. When it comes to sex, you want your teen to have a healthy mind, heart, and body. 

You want them to understand that once sex enters the relationship everything changes and gets complicated. “Do they really like me or just like having sex?” “This was an expensive date—does it come with ‘strings’ attached?” “If it wasn’t for the sexual part of our relationship, would we still be dating?”

1. A Healthy Mind:

  • What are their thoughts about having sex and how do they believe it will impact their relationship?
  • Do they understand where you stand on them being sexually active and why?
  • Do they understand the risks of and responsibilities that come with being sexually active?
  • Have they thought toward the future and understand the impact that having many sexual partners will have on a future committed relationship?
  • Do they understand how their life would change if they got someone pregnant or became pregnant? 
  • Do they understand consent and the legalities involved?

2. A Healthy Heart:

Do they:

  • Understand the role that sex plays in a relationship?
  • Know the signs of a healthy relationship?
  • Recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship?
  • Know the signs of an abusive relationship?
  • Have smart boundaries in a relationship? Are they strong enough to enforce those boundaries?
  • Know what to do if they feel pressured to do something they don’t want to do? (Do you have a codeword or phrase that they can use in a call or text that indicates they are uncomfortable and need out of a situation?)
  • Understand how to work through guilt and forgive themselves if they regret having sex?
  • Have the self-awareness to recognize the signs of depression, anxiety, and stress in their life?

3. A Healthy Body:

  • Do they understand they need to be tested for STDs & STIs? 

(No matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)

  • Do they understand that they will need a pregnancy test and visit to a doctor? (Again, no matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)
  • Do they know how to protect themselves against pregnancy and STDs, even if you have expressed that you don’t approve of them being sexually active?

Follow-Up:

Your teen might have been in a heightened emotional state while you were having this conversation about sex. It might take a few days for them to process what was discussed. A couple of days later, you might want to ask them what thoughts or questions they have about your talk. Remember, this was not a “one and done” conversation. Keep the dialogue going by being an “askable” parent. Let them know they can talk to you about whatever, whenever. 

★ Make sure your teen knows you love them no matter what. 

First Things First Resources:

Other Resources:

Image from Pexels.com

As a parent, it never ceases to amaze me that I feel a piece of the hurt that my child experiences—whether it be a skinned knee, a disappointment, or hurt feelings. I’m sure you feel the same way. And unfortunately, anxiety does not discriminate by age. Helping your 8- to 12-year-old child through anxiety is no piece of cake. Many parents are left in the dark as to how to nurture their child through worry, fear, and panic.  

When your tween-ager becomes anxious, how do you help them handle their anxiety? 

Worries and fears are normal for kids, whether it’s being nervous about an upcoming test, a friendship, or feeling uncertainty over a move to a new house. These feelings typically work themselves out in a short amount of time, and life moves on. However, anxiety can become problematic in tweens when it persists and interferes with everyday life. 

Not all kids experience anxiety the same way, and the source of one kid’s anxiety might be different from another’s. According to the National Health Service of the UK, some children simply have a hard time with change, such as attending a different school or moving to a new town. Distressing or traumatic experiences such as a house fire, change in family structure, or the death of someone close to them can certainly spark anxiety. Also, family conflict and arguments can heighten anxiety in children, especially if they experience it often. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, and the AACAP, there are some typical signs to look for to indicate that your child may be experiencing anxiety:

  • Anger or irritability.
  • Constant worry, negative thoughts, the nagging thought that bad things are going to happen.
  • Trouble sleeping at night.
  • Bad dreams.
  • Headaches or stomach aches.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling tense or fidgety.
  • Trouble concentrating on schoolwork or other tasks.
  • Avoidance of social gatherings or everyday activities.
  • Lack of confidence to try new things.

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be normal in 8- to 12-year-olds from time to time; all kids have a nightmare or show some fidgetiness now and then. However, if you see these symptoms crop up repeatedly, this may be an indication that your child is experiencing some anxiety and needs some help to cope. 

So, what can you do as a parent to help your child during these times? Here are some steps to help your child walk through worry, fear, and anxiety. 

Help your child talk through and name their feelings.

Emotion Wheel

Many kids don’t know how to articulate what it is they are feeling. Putting a label on what your child is feeling gives them a certain power over their anxiety, what some psychologists call a “name it, tame it” philosophy. Tools such as the emotion wheel below can help kids choose words to describe what they’re feeling.

Another side of the “name it, tame it” idea is to help your child give a literal name to the feeling of anxiety. This helps them to call the anxiety out and put it in its place. For instance, they might say, Well,Bruce” is showing up again, making me feel worried about this test. Bruce, you need to go away so I can get on with my class! This may feel a little “lame” to older kids, but it gives them a vocal power over their negative feelings and helps them to regulate tense emotions. 

Teach them to recognize their own signs of anxiety as they begin to arise.

(Such as heart beating fast, trouble thinking straight, sweaty palms, etc.). Anxiety is usually something that shows up progressively before it reaches full tilt, sometimes described as a wave that builds up and then ebbs away. The more your child can anticipate the wave coming, the better they can head it off at the pass with some coping skills. 

Teach your child some simple mindfulness and relaxation techniques for when they feel anxiety coming on.

For instance, they can take three deep breaths, inhaling through the nose on a three-count and exhaling through the mouth on a three-count. Deep breathing helps to slow a person’s heart rate and the amount of stress hormones that get squirted in the brain in a nerve-racking situation. Other very simple relaxation techniques can be found online. 

Help your child talk through what can be and what can’t be controlled in a certain situation.

For example, the fact that they will be attending a new school or that they won’t know anyone the first day or so cannot be controlled. However, they can control whether they open up and get to know other students. They can control whether they ask a teacher for help with finding their way. And they can control the knowledge that they will be coming home after school and can relax better. Direct your tween to make a two-column list, spelling out what can and cannot be controlled in their situation

Encourage your child to keep a “worry journal,” recording what it is that has them anxious and what they are feeling.

Another great version of this technique comes from Young Minds and is called the “worry box.” Kids can take a decorated box and, as they experience worry or anxiety over situations, record what they are worried about on slips of paper and put them into the box. At the end of the week, go through the slips of paper together with your child; have them determine which pieces of paper were worth worrying over (which is usually none of them), and have them tear that piece of paper up and throw it away. This is a great symbolic way of your child showing power over their anxiety

Coach your child to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of physical activity.

(At least 60 minutes a day, according to the CDC). And be sure they get the recommended amount of sleep at night for their age. Our physical health and our mental health are connected.

Avoid “pre-purchasing” anxiety for your child.

In other words, if you are feeling anxious over a certain situation your child is facing, your child will read you and follow suit. Also, avoid persistent family arguments and unhealthy conflict in the house. An environment filled with conflict only serves to increase the anxiety your child will feel at any given time. 

☆ If your child’s anxiety persists or increases despite these measures, be sure to pay a visit to their primary doctor with these concerns. 

Anxiety happens, and you want your child to learn how to read their own anxiety and develop coping skills. Keep in mind that anxiety is something to be worked through. And everyone needs someone else to walk with them through it—especially children. A key concept that 8- to 12-year-olds can begin to grasp is the idea that you have the power to not let anxiety get the best of you. And kids this age can begin implementing coping tools to demonstrate that power over their anxiety. 

Above all, be patient with them. Let them know you are there to walk with them without judging or shaming them for their feelings. A strong, caring relationship with your kids is the biggest weapon you can give them to build the inner strengths to handle anxiety. 

Image from Pexels.com

As parents, the memories linger from the first time you laid eyes on your child or the first time you held your child. Those are memorable moments. As your child continues to grow, there will be additional moments that strengthen your relationship. Strengthening your relationship builds bonds of love, connectedness, and support that last a lifetime.

Research throughout the years has indicated that bonding and attachment in infancy has many benefits in your child’s life which may include independence, self-reliance, better academic performance, and positive social interactions. When they were babies, we bonded by holding them, looking into their eyes, smiling at them and talking to them. As they grow in personality and become mobile, we have to find innovative ways to further our bonds. 

Here are 5 simple things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your child:

1. Read Together

Reading is fundamental to bonding and you can start doing it even when they are infants. As your child grows, reading can be an integral part of your quality time together. Having them sit on your lap and reading a story while making all the wonderful voices for each character not only gives them an appreciation for reading, but it also expands their vocabulary. As they reach ages 5-8, allow them to read to you.   

2. Get Physical 

As family therapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Find those times in the day when you can physically connect with your child. Wake them up with a hug and a smile. As you prepare for your day either in person or virtual, create a routine of hugging, butterfly kisses, or a special handshake to signal the beginning of the work/school day. Small gestures like a pat on the back, a rub on the shoulder or an old-fashioned high five are ways to bond with your child. 

3. Play

Play can take on many forms as your child grows—from peek-a-boo with an infant to board and card games, even appropriate video games. Plus, play bonds us because when we laugh and engage in rough and tumble play it stimulates the release of endorphins and oxytocin. Take time to show your child the games you played at their age: Hide and Seek, Tag, Red Light, Green Light, Tic-Tac-Toe just to name a few. 

4. Make time to give each child your undivided attention

We always seem to have things take up time on our schedules from work expectations, household responsibilities, or family activities. Sometimes we turn to our devices to take us away from all that is on our to-do list. Making time for your child can seem like another thing to be added to our list. However, it is vital to take small moments of time to focus your attention on your child. It doesn’t have to be long but your child will feel cared for, valued, and important to you. If you are the parent of more than one child, making time for each child builds a personal and individual connection between you. 

5. Enjoy each moment with your child

Your child will grow so fast, but hoping and wishing for the next stage only seems to make the time go faster. Learn to enjoy and savor each moment with your child whether it be making cookies, building a snowman, or singing at the top of your lungs. Slow down to appreciate the small moments together.

The famous saying, “the days are long but the years are short” may resonate with you, especially when you are dealing with an extra-long day. It may feel like everything is calling for your attention from the dishes to the laundry. Consider the big picture—there will be plenty of time to focus on cleaning out closets and a spotless house when your child is Grown and Gone. It’s not always the big moments that stand out, but those small little times that make the largest impact. Make and take time each day to strengthen your relationship with your child.

Image from Pexels.com

Guilt. Shame. Shock. Anger. Confusion. What happens now? (I’m talking about how parents often feel after they catch their teen looking at porn.) You know you are going to have to talk to your teen about porn, but you aren’t sure what you will say or how to have this conversation with your teen in a productive and healthy manner. This conversation is an excellent opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with your teen. You got this!

A few things to think about BEFORE you talk to your teen:

You control the tone of the conversation, and how you approach this conversation is significant.

Your response has the potential to communicate that sex is dirty, being curious about sex is unhealthy, and that your teen is perverted or has something wrong with them. This is NOT the conversation you want to have.

Remember—this is an opportunity. You can have a tone and approach that opens the door for future conversations and draws your teen toward you OR you can have a tone and approach that slams this important door shut and pushes your teen away. (And they won’t be talking to you about anything personal for a long, long time.)

You may have a lot of thoughts and emotions of your own to process. Take your time and make sure you are in the right frame of mind with your emotions in check

Ask yourself: What are my goals for this conversation?

If you have multiple children using multiple devices, make sure you are not jumping to conclusions about who was looking at what.

Spouses look at pornography too. This isn’t the time to play detective, but make sure you have your facts straight. Nothing feels worse than when someone accuses you of something you didn’t do.

Even if you found something on your teen’s phone, there is still the chance that they were not seeking anything explicit or pornographic.

They may have mistyped a URL, accidentally clicked an ad, or clicked on a trick link. They could have been “Cyber-Flashed.” Some popular apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram leave the door wide open for other users to send things unrequested. The apps themselves sometimes “recommend” explicit content. Facebook is notorious for individuals sending a friend request, followed by explicit material after you accept the friend request. Even a friend or sibling could have been using their phone.

[Any of these scenarios still require a conversation, but one on digital safety. This online class covers all the bases.] 

Educate yourself about pornography and its effects.

The website linked at the end will be a big help before you talk to your teen. Understand how pornography affects the brain and the chemistry of addiction.

A few things to think about AS you talk with your teen:

DO:

  • Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. Here’s an example of a conversation.
  • Remember the Closer/Further Rule: Are my words, tone, attitude, body language more likely to cause my teen to want to move closer to me or move further away? (Literally and figuratively.) Am I exhibiting a calmness, openness, and compassion to my teen? “It’s safe to move closer to this person.
  • Be direct, matter-of-fact, and calm—“I found pornography on your phone, (or tablet, or laptop) and I’d like us to talk about it.” [Be prepared for a variety of possible reactions—guilt, shame, or embarrassment over getting caught, or even anger and resentment for feeling like their privacy has been violated.]
  • End the conversation by asking if they have any questions, reaffirming that they can always come to you to talk about anything or when they feel tempted. Ask them how you can help them and above all else, tell them you love them no matter what and are willing to walk with them down this path.

DON’T:

  • Don’t interrogate. Probe gently. You probably want to know when they first saw pornography, how often they look at pornography, what they use to view pornography. Ask your teen how they feel after looking at porn. (Keep a good poker face even if you hear some things that make you uncomfortable.) You know your teen. You know how to gauge your teen’s responses.
  • Don’t lecture. You may have your own reasons why you don’t want your teen viewing pornography. Consider the following reasons as well:
    • The brain chemistry of addiction. Watching porn releases dopamine (“feel good” chemical) and oxytocin (bonding chemical). Both play a role in addiction.
    • Because of this, viewing pornography is an escalating behavior. The viewer will feel the need to see more porn and more explicit pornography to get the same chemical “high.”
    • Porn presents a distorted view of human sexuality and creates false expectations. It also leaves out the relational intimacy that contributes to good, healthy sex.
    • Pornography affects real-life relationships. Using porn is associated with less satisfaction in relationships, less close relationships, more loneliness, and more depression (Hesse & Floyd, 2019).

A few things to think about AFTER you talk to your teen about looking at porn:

  • Follow up. Teens often freeze-up when they are uncomfortable. They may need a day or two to process your conversation. Their thoughts, feelings, and questions might take a few days to form, so it’s a good idea to follow up a couple of days later with, “Now that you’ve had some time to think about our conversation, what thoughts or questions do you have?
  • Talking to your teen about sex and looking at porn is not a one-time talk. As a parent, you want this to be an ongoing conversation. Be an “askable” parent. Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they feel comfortable talking to you about hard topics and asking you questions.
  • You may want to make some practical changes in how you use technology in your home. (Electronic devices used in common areas of the house, devices charged in your bedroom at bedtime, etc.)
  • You are the best app to protect your teen online. If you choose to install apps or programs that restrict or report content on a device remember, teens find workarounds. Ultimately, the battle against pornography is won by knowing the truth and character development. Your relationship with your teen is the first and best line of defense.
  • Fight the New Drug (This website is a gold mine for info!)

Image from AdobeStock.com

People have sometimes said to me, “Chris, you have two daughters. Aren’t you scared to death of when they start dating?

I like to reply with an answer that really throws them for a spin: “Actually, I can’t WAIT for when my child dates!” (I usually either get a look like I have three heads or just a headshake-of-pity as they slowly turn and walk away with a “tsk-tsk…”). 

“Why can’t you wait?” you may ask. I know when my daughters begin to date, they’ll be entering a new phase in their social and emotional development, a period in their lives that will have life-transforming experiences. What they do in their early dating lives is going to shape who they marry, if they choose that route. And that’s exciting to me. (Not to mention, I’m chomping at the bit for that first you-can’t-go-on-a-date-with-my-daughter-until-I-interrogate-you meeting. I like to call it the “First Date Inquisition.”) 

Now, despite my gusto for dating, even I know there’s a healthy point for this phase to happen. Typically, when children and teens go through different stages of development, what happens in one stage plays a major role in how well they’ll get through the next. So, I want my daughters to enter into the dating stage of their lives as fully equipped and prepared as possible. 

So when should I let my child date?

That’s a hard question to answer. But, given all that I just shared, I can tell you when I won’t let my kids date.

When they can’t yet articulate to me a good purpose for dating.

Let’s be honest—when my daughter walks out of the house to meet someone for a date, the first thing on her mind probably isn’t, okay, I’m doing this because… She just wants to have fun, talk to someone who is as interested in her as she is in them. However, before that day comes, I do want her to have in her head why, overall, she wants to date. Because at the end of the day, there are good reasons and bad reasons to date. I don’t know that there’s a single right answer for all families to the question, “What’s the purpose for dating?” Parents and teens need to talk together to determine some positive purposes, with parents being the voices of wisdom. 

In our house, we talk about how dating:

  1. Prepares you to know better the kind of person you want to marry (if that’s something in the cards). 
  2. Is something that helps a young person grow into the person they are.
  3. Develops healthy social skills that are beyond friendship relationships. 

When they cannot yet grasp that their value doesn’t come from whether or who they date.

I want my girls to know that a romantic partner does not make them more of a person. They aren’t somehow “not enough” without a boyfriend. And that, despite what other people their age might be doing or saying, dating isn’t something you need to do because it helps you feel more accepted in your friend group. In other words, I want them to develop self-confidence and the beginnings of a firm identity beyond their dating life. 

When a teen knows this, it can protect them from adolescent dating risks. Research tells us that teens who have a healthy amount of self-efficacy, or self-assurance, are less likely to experience dating violence, use drugs or alcohol on dates, or cave into sexual pressures. 

If they don’t feel like they can communicate with me or their mom if something is wrong.

I’m just going to lay it out there for you: as much as it may pain you, when your kids begin dating, they will experience heartbreak, pressures, and temptation. They are going through the mental and emotional gymnastics of development. And they are going to come to points, many times, when they are stuck and need a voice of wisdom. That’s you. I want my daughters to know they can call me if they are at a place they don’t want to be and I’ll be there to get them. And I want them to feel comfortable to open up about what they are feeling or experiencing in a dating relationship. Despite popular belief, this is very possible

If they are dealing with depression or anxiety.

The bad news is that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 30% of adolescents experience some kind of anxiety, and Pew research tells us that 13% of adolescents in 2017 experienced at least one major depressive episode. The good news is, the vast majority of these issues in teens are very treatable. If my daughters experience any kind of depression or anxiety, I’m confident we can work through it over time. However, I don’t want a boyfriend or an active dating life to be the coping mechanism they use to deal with these things. Bad things happen when the “other person” is made the emotional crutch. 

When they can’t separate their dating life from their compassion for others.

What I mean here is sort of the reverse of the previous bullet point. Both of my daughters are very compassionate people; they’d gladly give everything they have to help someone who’s down and out. However, we’ve all seen relationships where one person stays because they feel the need to help the other deal with some issue. And this brings the fear that if you were to break it off, the other person might go off the deep end somehow.  This is “martyr dating,” and it’s not healthy. I want my daughters to understand that dating is not the avenue to walk people through their problems. 

A couple of caveats need to be made with the above points: 

  • Now, if I were to wait until my kids had all these things down in their development to let them date, well, they may be living in my house a verrrrrrry long time. Obviously, they won’t have it all together in their teen years. But the idea is to know my kids well enough to know that they are well on the road toward these developmental traits.
  • These developmental lessons begin well before teens are anywhere close to dating age. As a matter of fact, they begin with a close, connected relationship between parent and child. Parents need to be in the pocket, having ongoing conversations on these ideas with their kids. This is how children build self-confidence and trust to go to their parents with problems, even when they are older. Ongoing conversations help teens cope with anxiety and other emotional issues. And it helps them come to a good understanding as to the purpose of dating. 

There is no magic age a child should be allowed to date. It really depends on the child and where they are in their thinking and development. But one thing is for certain: parents need to become a student of their kids, continually learning more and more about how they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and getting a sense of the direction of their development. This is the best way that we as parents can prepare our kids for a healthy dating life.

Image from Pexels.com