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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:

(Part 2) – Check out Part 1, How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

In part one, we talked about giving your child a smartphone and what they need to know about sexting to protect themselves. Now, regardless of how you found out, you know your teenage son or daughter is sexting. Step #1, get a hold of your own emotions—embarrassment, guilt, disappointment, shock, anger—so you can have a productive conversation with your teen. If you need to go for a walk, phone a friend, talk to your spouse—whatever. It’s completely okay to tell your teen, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow.It’s not only okay, but it is also very wise. You have thoughts to get together.

Thought #1: What do I want to accomplish with this conversation—for my teen and for myself as a parent? Don’t rush thinking this through. Have goals.

Thought #2: This isn’t going to be a one-time talk. You want to open the door for an ongoing conversation about sexting as well as other difficult teen conversations—pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, dating violence, etc. You want to be an empathetic, askable parent who your teen feels comfortable talking to about anything.

Thought #3: Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. 

[Here’s an example of a real conversation about pornography. Notice the parent doesn’t lecture, doesn’t ask a million questions, doesn’t guilt-trip their child. The parent clearly doesn’t condone pornography but is more interested in gently probing their teen’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. This doesn’t mean there will be no consequences. But the parent is trying to build a relationship to keep these kinds of talks going.]

Step 1

In a calm, direct voice, ask your teen about the circumstances around the sexting. Then wait and really listen to them without judgmental faces or tones. Keep your mind and your body language open. You can disapprove of what your teen did but still be deeply concerned about them, validate their feelings, and the fallout of their choices. 

✦A word about punishments for sexting. The normal, obvious go-to is to take their phone away. Maybe you need to in their situation. This might be their 5th offense. They may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with a smartphone. Maybe they need an off-the-shelf phone that just allows them to talk and text. 

I don’t usually dabble in how parents punish their kids. Every kid and every family is different. I will say this: I’m a big fan of letting the universe handle some of the disciplining of my kids. I’m referring to natural and logical consequences. Sometimes the punishment is built into the poor choice. The choice to sext often has some built-in consequences like guilt, humiliation, a destroyed reputation, being bullied online and in real life, getting in trouble at school, the law getting involved, and on and on. You know your child better than anyone. How are they navigating these consequences? Do you need to drop the hammer on them or help them up? We’ve all done something we regretted. Making mistakes is a normal part of growing up. The important thing is to learn from it.

Step 2

Ask probing questions. NOTE: This is different than an interrogation. As you have a conversation, try to work in some of these questions.

  • What do you get out of sexting? How does it make you feel?
  • Did you feel pressured to do it?
  • Did the recipient promise not to show anyone?
  • What is considered “normal” about sexting among your peers?
  • Have you received sexts? What did you do with them?
  • Are there things on your phone you wouldn’t want me to see?
  • What has been the fallout of your sexting?
  • Do you think sexting is wrong? Why or why not?

Resist the urge to lecture or ask a million follow-up questions. Act comfortable and be direct. Show you’re really listening and trying to understand your teen and let them feel heard. You may not get to all this in one conversation. That’s okay. Know when to stop the conversation. You can always pick it back up. Let your teen know you love them no matter what.

Step 3

There are some things your teen needs to know about sexting. (They will roll their eyes. Ignore it.) You have a responsibility as a parent to make sure they know and understand certain things. So what are you supposed to do, whether you think your teen is sexting already or whether you’re worried they might start in the future? Believe it or not, you’re not completely powerless. So what can you do? Sheknows.com breaks it down.

  • Talk to your teen. A scary thought for many of us, but one of those unavoidable responsibilities of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting a hold of a “private” photo shared with a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Talk about self-esteem and self-respect. Consider how you might be setting yourself up for a lot of drama.
  • Set rules. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them ride in the car with no seat belts? So why give them something as dangerous as a cell phone and not establish rules? Start random phone checks, and go through everything on it regularly.
  • Take away the cell phone. Drastic, yes, but sometimes necessary when nothing else is working. If you truly don’t trust your child, why would you trust them with a tool they can use to bully others? 

Resources:

Common Sense Media: Sexting Handbook

Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Amanda Todd YouTube Video (Some might find content disturbing.)

6 Things Every Teen Needs to Know About Sexting

Why Is Sexting a Problem for Teens?

The Consequences of Sexting for Teens

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

(Part 1), Check out Part 2, What to Do If When Your Teen is Sexting

Maybe one of the biggest generational divides today is digital. Parents think it’s just a mobile phone that you can check email on and get driving directions. They can listen to music, shop, and keep up with friends on Facebook. For a parent, usually, their phone is just a part of their life.

But to kids, a smartphone IS their life. Online is where the action’s at—at least the action that matters. It’s where they “hang out” with their friends and flirt and gossip. It’s where they carry on their romantic relationships. It is also where they stand up for beliefs and express opinions. It’s not just a phone for them. It’s a passport to a world where their identity is fluid, time and space are more than relative, there are very few rules and often very little parental supervision.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that parents often seem in the dark about sexting. This is why so many parents can’t believe their shy, introverted, reserved daughter is sending nude pictures of herself to classmates or her boyfriend. “She’s not that kind of girl!” She probably isn’t—in the real world.

But it’s a whole different world online.

Get past the parental, “Why would they do that?

Keep in mind that to most teens, sexting has been normalized. Sexting is a “normal” way to interact with their peers. Many young people see nothing wrong with sexting, especially if “everyone is doing it,” or they are in a “committed” relationship. Meanwhile, some teens sext because they’ve been dared or they’re trying to entice someone. Some view it as a joke, and sadly, teens often feel pressured to sext. 

Think of the combination of being at an age when you are already curious about sex and also have all this technology at your disposal. Some teens find the combination irresistible.

1. What is “sexting?”

Sexting involves the exchange of sexually suggestive or explicit content, such as messages or photographs, between mobile devices. Interestingly enough, the word was first listed in the dictionary in 2012—around the time smartphones were gaining popularity among teens. (The good news is that actual sex among teens has been going down for the last 10 years according to the CDC. But the bad news is, many attribute this decrease in actual sex to increases in the use of pornography and sexting.)

A study in JAMA Pediatrics published in 2009 found that about 15% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 had sent sexts. And approximately, over 25% have received them. 

Almost 10 years later, according to research by JAMA in 2018, as many as 1 in 8 youth send or forward sexts without permission, which can devastate the subject or recipient of such messages. One report uncovered that some children as young as 10 years old are exposed to sexting. Unfortunately, 54% of teens under the age of 18 admit to having sent sexually-tinged messages or inappropriate pictures. 

So, sexting is on the rise.

We know that 53% of teens who sext are girls while 47% are boys. 1 in 5 teens has sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. Almost 20% of teens have reported being forwarded a picture or video that was not intended for them, with over half of those teens admitting to forwarding it to more than one other person

As we try to get accurate information on a subject that depends on self-reporting, the bottom line is that sexting is a growing teen reality that’s here to stay.

2. When should I talk to my child about it?

As soon as they get a cellphone or smartphone. Don’t wait until there’s an issue or you find something on their phone. This is a conversation that comes with receiving a phone. HERE is a great article about when and how you should give your child a phone.

All they might need to know is that some people use their phones for inappropriate things. If they receive a text, a request, or a picture that makes them feel uncomfortable, they need to bring it to Mommy or Daddy right away. They aren’t in trouble, Mommy and Daddy just want to talk to them about how to handle it. Remember, your child can do NOTHING wrong and still accidentally come across inappropriate content or have it sent to them.

3. How do I talk with my child about sexting?

Don’t lecture. Do not freak out if you’ve found something on your teen’s phone or you hear what some of their friends are doing. ASK QUESTIONS—compassionately and empathetically. Be a good active listener. HERE is a great blog about talking to your teen in general. HERE & HERE are great blogs about talking to your teen about sensitive topics like pornography and sex. They have great principles that apply to talks with your teen about sexting, too.

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.)

4. What topics should I cover?

  • When nude pictures or partially nude pictures involve minors, many states consider this child pornography. Although state laws vary, in some states exchanging nude photos of minors also is considered a felony—even when the photos taken and shared are consensual. (These are the sexting laws from state to state.)
  • Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved and they will lose control of it—even if they “delete” it. The image is out there forever. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture because that happens all the time. (Remember, the part of their brain that takes long-term consequences into account when decision-making, literally has not fully developed yet. Teens are stuck in a moment and they can’t get out of it.)
  • Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation from the spread of the picture can be hundreds of times worse. Remind them that they are opening themselves up to blackmail or “sextortion.” (Someone with a picture of them may threaten to post it all over their social media if they don’t send more.) It’s a big deal. A number of teens have committed suicide because their picture went around school with the sexual bullying that goes with it. Over half of the kids who experience online bullying also experience bullying in the real world. 
  • Teach them that we live in a world where getting a scholarship, a job, or into the school of their choice, often depends on what comes up when someone Googles their name. They need to know that the internet is forever.
  •  Empower them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography—and again, that’s against the law. They should know they can say no.

Even if your teen decides they totally trust the person, or they’re dating the person, it’s worth it to think about a few “what ifs” before sexting.

What if…

  • The recipient loses his or her phone?
  • A friend scrolls through his or her messages and sees it?
  • A parent checks the recipient’s phone and sees it?
  • The recipient changes his or her mind about not sharing it?
  • The relationship circumstances change? (They break up. Photo(s) goes EVERYWHERE, even to sweet Nana. This is called revenge porn.)

Is your teen willing to take ALL those risks?

Talking to your teen about sexting can be awkward and uncomfortable (for both of you), but it also has the potential to strengthen the bond between you and your teen. Just like other uncomfortable topics, probe gently, be a good listener, be an “askable” parent, and remember these aren’t one-time talks; these are ongoing conversations. You can do it!


If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

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

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.

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What is your teen asking you about the future? Do you have answers?

“What am I gonna do about school and soccer, Dad?” my 14-year-old son asked me. I didn’t know. I’d been asking myself the same questions for weeks and didn’t have any answers. It feels like new information comes out every day that undermines my decisions. Everything feels tentative. The future feels like a collection of shreds and patches. 

The last few months have left the foreseeable teen future uncertain. Your teen may be feeling a lot of anxiety: What will school look like? Will I be able to get a part-time job, play sports, play my favorite instrument in the band? What about prom and graduation?

And don’t forget their favorite part of school—seeing their friends. There’s so much unknown for them to process.

Don’t forget, they are old enough to wonder about your adult future and the family’s future. You may feel secure about your job situation, your finances, the health of family members—and something like divorce may be totally out of the question. This doesn’t stop your teen from worrying about those things.

All of these unknowns can easily translate into anxiety, stress, and depression for your teenager. (They can for us adults, too.)

When it comes to the important things in life, we all prefer certainty to uncertainty. But our adult brains are developmentally better suited to live with some uncertainty than our teen’s brain is. Their brain is still developing and processing so many unknowns (that they are invested in) can be particularly difficult for them. How can we help them?

[Read this blog that describes what is happening to teens developmentally.]

1. Model The Behaviors And Attitudes You Want For Your Teen

  • Self-Care: Tending to your physical health and emotional health.
  • Mindfulness: Deep breaths. Self-awareness. Focus. 
  • Critical Thinking: Decisions based on the most reliable information.
  • Optimism: “We are going to come out on the other side even stronger.”
  • Resilience: “We are going to take it one day at a time as a family.”
  • Gratitude: “We still have a lot to be thankful for…”
  • Service: “How can we help others who are struggling?” 

These are all things that your young adult needs to navigate uncertainties they will encounter as future adults.

2. Acknowledge When The Future Is Unknown & When You Just Don’t Know

We want to have answers for our teens and they often expect us to have them. It can be tempting to try to “fake it” or give the answer we think will make them feel better in the moment. Besides being disingenuous, in the long run, it will undermine their confidence in you. You don’t want to be seen as a source of false hope and misinformation.

It is totally appropriate (and honest) to admit it when we don’t know. Saying something like, “I don’t have enough information yet to confidently make a wise decision about that,” doesn’t undermine your trustworthiness and reliability; It enhances it. Your teen can relax (hopefully) and know that when you do make a decision it will be based on the best information and what’s best for the family.

3. Become A Student Of Your Teen 

Be on the lookout for the ways your teen might be struggling with anxiety and stress and depression. A very talkative teen may become quiet. A very quiet teen might become talkative. A normally social teen may become withdrawn. A teen that normally keeps to themselves might suddenly become a social butterfly. Look for any changes in their normal behavior. 

Keep in mind that sometimes teens deal with difficult emotions in unhealthy ways. Be on the lookout for outbursts, disrespect, risky, or harmful behavior. Watch their eating and sleeping habits. As you address their behavior, be sure to address what the real issue may be underneath it.

4. Be Open And Create Space For Your Teen To Express Their Anxiety

Teens will often “show” you when they are struggling before they will “tell” you they are struggling, but there are things you can do to keep the lines of communication open:

  • Make sure your teen knows you have an “open door” policy and that they can talk to you about anything, anytime.
  • Take advantage of car rides and other times you are alone with your teen that don’t feel like you are angling for a “big talk.” Teens often open up when you are doing something else, like cooking or watching television.
  • It’s okay to ask questions like, “How are you feeling about school this year?Then practice active listening skills.
  • Don’t “freak out” at what you hear. Keep that poker face.
  • Don’t ask a million questions, probe gently, empathize, and be a good listener.

5. Recognize When You Are Out Of Your Depth And Get Your Teen Help

Anxiety, stress, depression, and anger are significant and often complex problems—especially in the lives of teens. It is totally appropriate and necessary for you as a parent to recognize when you have reached the limits of how you can help your teen. Don’t stop there. Reach out for help. Contact a counselor.

The unknown is, well, unknown. It is normal to experience fear and anxiety concerning the unknown. There are lots of things that your teen cares deeply about that are just flat out up in the air at the moment. Don’t feel bad that you can’t make the unknown “knowable” for your teen. Model how to face the unknown, be there for your teen, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until the unknown becomes known.

We are four months into the Coronavirus Pandemic. When it first began, we were so shocked by the shelter-in-place rules that we decided to embrace this interruption in our “normal” lives. We were intentional about dinners as a family, spending quality time with each other and we even began family projects. Now, our teens have had enough “togetherness.” They either want to enter the world again or they may be withdrawn. For us, we so enjoyed our time with our teens that we don’t want it to stop. 

How can you deepen your connection with your teen?

1. Let them know their friends are welcome.

I mean, who’s not up for a party? Be up for a friend gathering for s’mores, a cookout, or an outdoor movie. Let your house be the place they want to hang out and don’t let money get in the way. If you can’t afford to supply all the food yourself, have everyone bring something. The key is to set the wheels in motion. As an added bonus, you’ll get to know their friends, too. Make sure that you get the “thumbs-up” from parents and are aware of social distancing and mask recommendations in your community. 

2. Disconnect to connect.

Multi-tasking is a major conversation-killer. For example, if your teen hates it when you talk on the phone when they are in the car, they may have a valid point. Who wants to feel excluded from a conversation? So, try to intentionally avoid talking when you are riding together. You know that little button that lets people know you’re driving? Use it, and make the time together in the car count. You have a captive audience and precious time in the car, so use it wisely. This goes for the dinner table and the living room, too.

3. Respect their space. 

It is key that you respect your teen’s space if you want to deepen your connection with your teen. If you have no reason to question their safety, please allow them some room to have their own thoughts, dreams, and goals. Give them the time and space to be a young adult. The more that you crowd them, the less likely they will be to share with you or even spend time with you.

4. Listen to them, even when it’s difficult to just listen.

When our teens hurt, we hurt. It may be easy to go into “Protective Mode” or “Fix-It Mode.” What they need from you is to listen and help them process—not take over, freak out, ask a million questions, or launch into a lecture. 

5. Find out what they like to do and join (apps like Snapchat, TikTok, read the same book and discuss, re-decorate a room together, etc.)

This may not be second nature to you. You may find that liking a post or trying to keep a Snap Streak alive shows that you care (and if you mess up the streak, they’ll let you know, which shows that they care, too). Allow them to teach you a new popular dance, then dance with them in a crazy TikTok video. 

6. Get into their world, even if you don’t understand it. 

You may not be a big fan of video gaming, sports, or animé. You may even dismiss its usefulness in your teen’s life. However, they have meaning to your teen. Getting involved with things that are important to them demonstrates that you value their interests and so, value them. It may open the door for you to invite them to join you in things you do. They may actually shock you by saying “yes.” 

7. If you bake it, they will come (and maybe even talk).

I have NEVER had my teens turn me down for a little one-on-one time if there is food or dessert involved. You may actually get more than a one-word answer to a question. This may look a little different depending on which child I’m wooing, for sure. It can be as simple as warming a pecan pie for my high schooler or as involved as cooking hamburgers on the grill for my college graduate. Once you find what works, it’s a win. 

These are jus a few ways for parents to increase their quality time with their teens. It’s important to make the most of the time that you have left with them at home. Before you know it, they will be off to college, military, or the work world.  

Here are some other blogs that may help you deepen your connection with your teen:

HOW DO I GET MY TEEN TO TALK TO ME?

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY TEEN IS DEPRESSED?

I THINK COVID-19 HAS MADE MY TEEN HATE ME

HOW DO I STOP FIGHTING WITH MY TEEN?

PARENTING THROUGH FORTNITE

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