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Teens experienced a lot of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 

Now the fabric of society is leaning more toward “the way things used to be.” However, many are experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” 

Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

How to Talk to Your Teen About Drinking

Conversations around alcohol can impact life or death situations.

Drinking is one of “those topics” that parents need to talk about with their teens. Here’s some help navigating this potentially difficult conversation.

What’s potentially difficult? There are state laws and your house rules. Other parents (and therefore your teen’s friends) may have different rules about alcohol. Drinking is an activity where there is often intense peer pressure on teens. Also, teen drinking is usually paired with other behaviors like drug use, sex, and violence. (Your conversation might go in some unexpected directions.)

  1. State laws are a great place to start. They’re black and white. Make sure you know your state’s laws regarding alcohol, especially the laws regarding purchase, possession, and internal possession. (“Internal possession” means your teen may not have been found with alcohol on his or her person, but they had alcohol in them based on a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.) Laws can vary by state, especially when it comes to parents allowing a minor child to drink at their home or private property.
  • Make sure your teen knows the legal consequences of their actions, especially driving under the influence.
  • The Federal Trade Commission says the following: No state has an exception that permits anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property. Translation: Party at a friend’s house whose parents provide or allow alcohol is always illegal.
  1. This is a good place to transition from your state’s laws to your house rules. Explain that there are many different opinions about alcohol. Your teen’s friends may have parents with different beliefs about drinking. That’s okay. What matters is the position you take as their parent and the actions you model regarding alcohol.

Parental postures vary regarding drinking for a variety of legitimate reasons

Some parents:

  • Have strong religious convictions against it. 
  • Were raised by an alcoholic parent. 
  • Struggled with alcohol when they were younger.
  • Have a friend or family member who is destroying their life with alcohol.
  • May be responsible, moderate drinkers. 

You aren’t judging the family down the street. This is a time for you to talk to your teen about some important life principles. Personal responsibility. Self-control. Moderation and balance. Choosing, not just between right and wrong, but between better and best. 

  1. To complete your due diligence as a parent, you have to address some typical teen behaviors with alcohol. Your goal isn’t to scare your teen but to definitely keep it real, give them facts, and leave an opening for further questions and future conversations.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) periodically release a Youth Risk and Behavior Survey (YRBS). Their latest is for 2019, and every parent should become familiar with it.

The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:

  • 29% drank alcohol.
  • 14% binge drank.
  • 5% of drivers drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • In 2019, female high school students were more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink than male students.

Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher rates of absences or lower grades.
  • Social problems. 
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injuries.
  • Misuse of other substances.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  1. If it isn’t already, plan on this being an ongoing conversation. Ask your teen questions (but don’t interrogate them) about alcohol use among their peers, and try not to freak out about the answers. Ask them about their opinions and experiences with alcohol. Listen, don’t lecture. 

When you think of conversations with your teen, please view communication as a two-way street. Give them conversationally what you would like from them. What do you hope for when you talk with your teen about drinking… or drugs, or sex? You’re hoping for honesty, transparency, authenticity, and quality listening. Give that to your teen so they can return it.

Appropriately share things like:

  • When I was your age, alcohol was a big/small part of my home…
  • Kids at my school used to…
  • My friends and I…

This might sound risky and counter-intuitive, but teens operate a little differently. They often meet you at your level of “realness.” They clam up when they feel you’re “fishing” to pull info from them. When they say, “Things are so different now from when you were my age,” agree with them. Your teen is right. (Two words: Social Media.) But you still have much wisdom and life experience to offer. Your “missteps” don’t give your teen “license,” but they do give you credibility. Your teen will probably offer information if you sincerely offer it yourself.

    ★ Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they know they are loved and can talk to you about anything, anytime. This means investing time outside of “big talks” like this one.

BONUS THOUGHT:

I’ve actually had these conversations with my kids. Realistically, I knew my teens wouldn’t always make the right decisions. I told each of them that if they were in a situation where they would be driving impaired or had to ride with someone who was impaired, they could call me at ANY TIME. I would get them wherever they were. No questions asked. The number one priority was their safety. 

Some parents feel this gives implied permission to break the rules. I believe it’s an understanding that failure exists on a continuum. Your teen can’t learn life lessons if they lose their life. This is a serious topic and a tough one. You get to guide them. Good luck!

Sources:

Underage Drinking | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Possession/Consumption/Internal Possession of Alcohol: About This Policy | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Alcohol Laws by State | FTC Consumer Information

Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019

CDC Underage Drinking

You and your daughter used to be “besties.” She was your princess; you were her knight in shining armor. Y’all were like peas and carrots, PB and jelly, Gronk and Brady…

Then KABLAM! She turned into a teenager. Which resulted in radio silence…

Been there, currently doing that, wearing the proverbial t-shirt at this very moment. 

And if that t-shirt were for real, it’d have a sad face on it. Because as a girl-dad, it’s a horrible feeling to think you and your daughter don’t talk as much as you used to. 

I’m sure the questions have run through your mind: How did this happen? Is this normal? Did I do something wrong? Am I just uncool? 

These are all valid questions, except for that last one. 

From one girl-dad to another, I’m breaking it to you: Yes, you are uncool. That time you picked your daughter up from school blasting Vanilla Ice? Uncool. When you walked by her Zoom call wearing a cowboy hat and bathrobe? So uncool. (Although you have mad respect from me.)

But I digress… Without further ado, here are five possible reasons teen girls stop talking to their dads: 

1. It’s normal.

Seriously. As a teen, your daughter is in a stage of developing her independence. Her brain is prepping her for the day when she’s on her own. (Grab the tissues, Pops.) All teens go through it to some degree. And what results is a necessary pulling away from her parents. (Learn more about this here.)

2. She doesn’t feel understood. 

Sometimes I forget that just because I’m her dad doesn’t mean my daughter feels like I’m approachable. Teen girls need to feel safe with their dad in order to open up and talk. If I’m in the habit of giving her advice when she doesn’t want it, or I tend to be more critical than supportive, she’s going to feel misunderstood. 

3. She doesn’t know how to get closer to you. 

Wait,” you say, “but we used to be close!” Yes, but that was before teenhood struck. Here’s what research tells us: most teenagers say they want to be closer to their parents, but they aren’t sure how. For your daughter, relating to dad as a child was different than it is as a teen. You might be the same, but she’s changing (as she should be). For her, this is all unexplored territory—not just being a teenager, but being a teenage daughter.

4. You don’t know how to get closer to her. 

When your little girl starts turning into a young lady, it’s sometimes hard for a dad to know how to connect. It’s easy to think, “I’m not sure I know how to relate to her anymore. She’s so different than when she was little.” Maybe this is a time she needs her mom (or another mom-figure—and not me). As a result, many dads react by pulling away. 

5. There’s more to it than development.

As dads, we don’t want to think about this, but we should be aware. Withdrawing from friends or activities, falling grades, or constant irritability may indicate a deeper issue. In this case, monitor what you see. Let your daughter know you’re concerned for her, and seek professional help if needed. (Read How Do I Know if My Teen is Depressed?)

Fellow dads, let me encourage you! Your teen girl still needs you in her life. She wants to talk to you, even though she might not come out and say it. And if she’s stopped talking to you, it’s not hopeless. Stay in the pocket, keep engaging, let your daughter know you support her. Let her know she’s still the Gronk to your Brady, no matter how much Vanilla Ice you play in your car. 

It’s hard to watch our teens feel insecure or see them lacking self-confidence. We want to encourage them to be more confident in themselves. So, we often have specific knee-jerk reactions to their insecurity. It’s easy to understand why. 

As parents, we…

  • Want them to see themselves in all the wonderful ways we see them. 
  • Know a lack of confidence can keep them from trying new things and finding their passions. 
  • Understand how confidence is a valuable character quality and will help them be successful in life. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to just watch them oozing insecurity and low self-confidence

Here are four things you can do to help encourage an insecure teen. But first, a couple of things NOT to do.

We sometimes try these two “shortcuts to security,” but they often make matters worse.

  • We Over-Praise Our Teens. Teens can sniff this out right away—especially if they just finished some low-risk, easy task or they know they didn’t do their best.
  • We Emphasize Results Over Effort and Perseverance. Just tell them to do their best and have fun. Accept the results the way you want your teen to accept them and grow from them. (Critique behavior, NOT your teen as a person.)

Instead of parenting your insecure teen in those ways, try doing these four things: 

  1. Be honest and vocal about your own insecurities. We all have insecurities and areas where we lack confidence. If you’re honest and talk to your teen about these things, you normalize those feelings for your teen. This is important because of what you’re going to do next…
  1. Model how to face your insecurities and work through your lack of confidence. Let your teen hear your positive, grounded self-talk. Allow them to see how you prepare for challenges. Tell them your goals. Be mindful of how you respond to your own successes and failures.
  1. Be a parent your teen wants to talk to and develop a healthy relationship with. This involves being available and regularly spending time with your teen. It means being a good listener and not overreacting or bombarding your teen with a million questions. Listen “between the lines” for the source(s) of their insecurity. Be gentle.
  1. Talk to your teen about social media. Model healthy media use. Yes, social media. It impacts how your teen forms and values their identity. Talk to your teen about the “unreality” of social media and the dangers of the comparison game. Your teen is looking at someone’s staged, filtered, touched-up highlight reel and comparing it to their own “behind-the-scenes” footage.

Most of us feel insecure sometimes, but some teens feel insecure most or all of the time. 

—These feelings can be because of their childhood, traumatic experiences, past failures, or rejection. You’ll want to explore all these things with your teen, but you have to be the kind of parent they’ll open up to.

—Your teen may be dealing with depression, loneliness, or social anxiety they need to see a professional about. Put counseling on the table as a positive, normal step.

—Sometimes, our perfectionism or criticism has contributed to our teen’s insecurity and lack of confidence. If you feel that may be the case, be honest with your teen, own what you need to own, and apologize. 

Insecurity and low self-confidence are not “light switch” problems. You can’t just flip a switch to make your teen secure and confident. Insecurity and low self-confidence are “thermostat” problems. You can’t “dial it up” for your insecure teen, but you can encourage them. Create a healthy environment, be a role model, and open the lines of communication. Then, your teen can grow in confidence and security!

Related Blogs:

5 Ways to Help Your Child Be More Confident

How to Be a Parent Your Child Wants to Talk To

5 Ways to Help Your Teen Through the Unknown

How to Prevent Depression in Teens

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens

Parenting a teenager is easy, said no one, ever. But it can be easier if you know what to avoid.

When you became a parent, you were probably bombarded with “sage” advice for all the stages of parenting. Much of it you immediately threw away. There may have been a few statements that stuck in your psyche like:

Just wait until they start walking. They will get into everything.

Oh, just wait until they reach the terrible twos! “No” becomes their favorite word.

You think the terrible twos are bad, just wait until they become TEENAGERS.

Once you hear that last statement, you may unconsciously begin to anticipate the worst. (Or you may do what I did: Immediately call your parents to apologize for your teen behavior.) No matter what, the teen years are coming. The key is to prepare yourself for when the time comes so you can avoid the mistakes many parents make with their teens.

Whether you’re just beginning the teen journey or entirely in the middle of teenage life, it’s vital you are aware of five mistakes parents of teens often make.

1. Failing to Prepare Your Teen for Adulthood by Problem-Solving for Them.

Your child needs to learn how to think for themselves and solve problems. Being your child’s constant problem-solver doesn’t prepare them for adulthood. You may continue to see your child as the baby that changed your life. However, they are growing up and need to be prepared for college, military service, and/or the workforce. Allowing your child to try, fail, and try again, is invaluable in building their sense of self-confidence. They need your support, but remember to prepare your child for the road, not the road for your child.

2. Choosing the Wrong Battle.

Being the parent of a teenager can be difficult. However, making everything they do a big deal makes it worse. Your teen will probably have different tastes in music, fashion, and entertainment than you. It’s okay and perfectly normal. You may dislike your child’s purple hair and loud music. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Is that the battle you really want to fight?  When you attempt to say “yes” to as many things as possible, it makes saying “No” stand out more.

3. Trying to be Perfect.

Yes, your teen will be watching you. Watching how you react to a variety of situations. They need to know it’s okay to make mistakes. When you model how to learn from mistakes and regroup, it shows them that messing up isn’t fatal. Thomas Edison said it best: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

4. Because You Think They Aren’t Listening, You Stop Talking. 

Culture and media tell parents they have little influence on their teens. This is not true. As a parent, you continue to have a MAJOR impact on how your child handles “big ticket” items like drugs, alcohol use, and sex. Yes, they may roll their eyes and tell you that you don’t understand. Nevertheless, keep talking. Keep asking questions about what’s going on in their world. Keep listening.

5. You Are All Business and No Play or All Play and No Business.

You may remember the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The opposite is true, as well. All play and no work makes Jack a freeloader. The focus is to provide balance for your teen. They need to know the boundaries and expectations you have for them while having the freedom to act within what you have set. Yes, they have to prepare for college and adulthood. But that shouldn’t prevent you from spending some quality downtime together. 

Parenting teens has been compared to so many different things, from roller coasters to waves to keeping a car in the middle of the road. Continuing to be present and a presence in their life no matter how difficult they make it or say they don’t want or need you is vital. Your teen will make missteps on their journey to adulthood. As a parent, you may make a few mistakes guiding your teen on this path as well. In the words of Samuel Beckett, “Try, Fail, Try Again, Fail Better.”

5 Things All Teens Need From Their Parents (From Parents Of Teenagers)

7 Ways to Deepen Your Connection With Your Teen

How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

The best advice is always in the comment section. It’s an adage that’s proven right over and over. Doesn’t even matter what kind of publication. So, I’m reading an article online by a national beacon of journalism about the things teens need most from their parents. 

Couldn’t wait to get to the comment section!

Having raised four teens and enjoying my last, I’m always looking for some pointers. I’ve been in high schools for 25 years, so I read the article with a ton of curiosity. I’m no expert. Every one of my teens has been different and challenging in their own way.

But make no mistake, Beacon of Journalism, they’re not rocket science…

The article divides the teenage years into very neat 2-year increments. It gives some reasonably decent, general thoughts on each two year period. Turns out, wait for it, teens need coaching, support, good examples, and most of all, understanding. Fair enough. Many teens don’t get those things at home. 

This is all based on the latest brain-scanning technology and the latest research, including longitudinal studies. (Studying the same subjects over a period of time, as opposed to research that studies a group once. Think video over a snapshot.) These studies are “…changing scientists’ views on the role parents play in helping children navigate a volatile decade.”

Question: How were parents raising their children before brain scans and longitudinal studies and scientists told us how to parent and what things teens need from us?

Remember, the best advice is always in the comment section. The comment section may not be full of scientists, but it is filled with parents with actual experience with teens. No brain scans. Not a scientist or a longitudinal study in sight.

Could we learn some of the things teens from actual parents of teens in the comments? 

Here Are Five Gems (Plus a Bonus Funny)

  1. 99% of successful parenting is being there. Really being there.
  2. Don’t rob them of the struggle. Teach them hard work and discipline.
  3. As the parent of two now mature and successful daughters, I believe that other than showing unconditional love, one of the best teachers is to let them screw up and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.
  4. I have been trying to mentor a teen whose parents did nothing for him but put clothes on his back and shoes on his feet. He is 20 years old operating on animal instincts. If character is not taught, many of the other attributes are useless. He is hurting badly from absentee parents who never taught him character or anything else.
  5. Understanding is overrated. As an adult, do you whine to the IRS to “understand” the tax code? Teens need healthy and firm boundaries. And then held accountable to those boundaries. To give them too much in the way of material things or too much of anything is to create whining, spoiled babies. They need to be required to contribute to the family in terms of household duties so they feel valued. And you always show them love when you take away their devices for non-compliance. 

Not bad advice at all. Just like parents don’t want to wonder where their teens are, no teen should have to wonder if they are loved. Didn’t even have to plug in my brain scanner. Thanks, parents.

✦ Here’s a bonus funny: 

When I was a teenager, my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.

If there is a generational divide today it is definitely digital. It’s not like parents don’t know how to use smartphones and understand how to use social media—they do (mostly). The generational divide is a mentality. Parents send texts and make posts on social, but they fail to realize that online, digital life is the main life that matters to their teens. What’s worse is, parents sometimes seem blissfully unaware of some of the dangers that left unchecked and unsupervised, can get their teen into serious trouble. And if they don’t understand the dangers, they can’t possibly be talking to their teens about them.

Dating Violence in the Digital Age Pop Quiz:

  1. You probably know what “sexting” is, but what is “sextortion?”
  2. How many clicks is PornHub, a porn site filled with often violent porn, from Snapchat?
  3. Define “sexual bullying.”
  4. What percent of teens who experienced digital abuse also experienced physical abuse?
  5. True or False: If you aren’t dating, you are less likely to be abused and harassed.

Answers:

  1. “Sextortion” is using threats or pictures already in your possession to get an individual to send more (often more explicit photos or videos) or sometimes even money to ensure you don’t send out pictures to the school or family members on social media.
  2. 5 clicks from one of the most popular teen apps. And pornography is often teaching boys (and girls) about human sexuality and what is acceptable and normal behavior—even if it is violent.
  3. “Sexual bullying” is the name-calling, psychological, and often physical abuse suffered by someone who has had a compromising photograph shared around the school. It has caused victims to have to switch schools and even commit suicide.
  4. 52% of teens who have experienced digital abuse will also experience physical abuse.
  5. False. Not being in a dating relationship does not spare someone from the potential abuse physically or online.

★ Here is one more sobering statistic—while 25% of teens are harassed or abused digitally, only about 9% seek out help. (And it is rarely from parents or teachers.)

Based on the data, if parents want to help guide and guard against things like this happening to their children, they really need to get educated and be willing to initiate conversations with their children. Otherwise, you’re leaving your teen to navigate a Digital City with creepy people and dangerous back alleys.

A. Be a parent that is approachable, askable, and relatable.

Don’t freak out over what you hear. Steer clear of interrogating your teen with a million questions. If you can’t keep your emotions in check, your teen won’t talk to you about the digital part of their lives for a really long time. (Also, realize your teen could do nothing wrong and something explicit could be sent to their phone.)

Smartphones, the internet, video games, and social media all have their benefits and their dangers. Fortunately, there are tons of resources available on the internet to educate yourself.

B. Be aware of the signs of dating abuse and harassment.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. They have an excellent list on their website of warning signs.

Have you noticed any of these warning signs in your teen?

C. Help your teen be aware of the short-term consequences AND long-term.

Not only could your teen become the victim of mental, psychological, and physical abuse, but a simple nude photo sent to their boyfriend or girlfriend puts their future at significant risk. The internet is forever, no matter how much they may think something is deleted. When a future employer or the school of their choice Googles their name, what’s going to come up?

Use these resources below to help you start the conversation about dating violence in the digital age…

6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships

10 Red Flags in a Dating Relationship

What to Do if Your Teen is Sexting

How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

What To Do If Your Teen Is Having Sex

How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?    

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

How Do I Talk to My Teen About Their Romantic Relationships?

Here's one key to guiding your teen through romance.

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: