As we all know, the teen years are a crucial stage for developing an identity and answering such questions as “Who am I?” “What do I believe about the world, myself and others?” “Who do I ultimately want to become in life?”
Consequently, a teen’s friends can play a powerful role in the formation of her identity. Healthy relationships help teens make healthy life decisions; unhealthy relationships, as you might have guessed, can cause teens to make harmful life decisions.
A teen might dismiss the warning signs of a bad friend or boyfriend because she longs to fit in and be liked and accepted by others. A healthy relationship involves respect, kindness, trust and boundaries. Unfortunately, though, Kids Health has found that one in 11 teens reports being physically hurt by a date.
One of the most important and valuable ways to help your children learn to develop healthy relationships in their own lives is to make sure that you are modeling healthy relationships in yours. Talking to your teen and taking opportunities to teach her will not do as much good unless you are able to point to examples in your own life and display the characteristics of healthy relationships in your attitudes and actions. We have a saying around Compass Rose Academy that “often times more is caught than taught,” so it is extremely important for parents to start with themselves when they are about teach their teens a valuable lesson. Is dad treating mom right? Is mom respecting authority when she is talking with a teacher at school or coach? Am I showing my daughter how to have healthy relationships in everyday life?
So what are some ways that you can evaluate your attitudes and actions to see if you are modeling healthy relationships?
- Relationships require vulnerability.
This word evoked one of two responses in you. It either made you cringe and want to crawl in a hole where you cannot be seen, or it made you excited because have been following Brené Brown, reading her books, and watching her TED Talks. Vulnerability is a scary thing for most people but Brené has brought a very valuable subject to the forefront of our consciousness. Deep and enriching relationships require that we allow ourselves to be seen for who we are. We cannot only present the good and hide the bad (like many Facebook users) and expect to have relationships where we feel truly known, valued, and loved. Demonstrate for your teen that you do not have to be perfect to be loved or accepted and that it is important, within the trust and safety of close relationships, to let yourself be seen for the good and the bad, success and failure, happy and sad.
- Relationships require boundaries.
Close relationships do not require that you lose a sense of who you are as an individual within that relationship. You are a distinct person with your own set of likes, dislikes, thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Boundaries actually enhance the safety and trust of a relationship, even when it means saying “no” or voicing anger or frustration within that relationship. While it is difficult to do and not all relationships will survive the test, worthwhile relationships will grow deeper as each person in the relationship is able to work through conflict, set boundaries, and say “no” when needed. Does your daughter see you giving in to others and saying “yes” to others’ demands or requests and then have to live with you as you torture yourself with regret, bitterness, or resentment as a result? It is one thing to tell your daughter to “say no to drugs” or “don’t let boys treat you that way,” but it is much more powerful for her to see her parents being models of assertiveness, saying “no,” and setting healthy boundaries in their lives.
- Relationships are vital to our existence.
This sounds obvious but the reality is that many of us try to conquer life on our own every day. You have friends, family members, and acquaintances, but do you truly take the time to recognize your relational needs and reach out to others to meet those needs? When is the last time you called a friend and let her know you were hurting and needed comfort? When have you directly verbalized to your spouse that you needed encouragement or affirmation instead of feeling hurt and overlooked when he or she didn’t notice instinctively that you needed support? We were created for relationship and it is the fuel for your life. Demonstrate that you can recognize your needs and that you intentionally get relational needs met in relational ways. If the adults in a teen’s life constantly turn to a glass of wine, TV, or surfing the web to find calming, comfort, or peace, it should not be a surprise when the teen develops similar patterns through drugs, social media, or other outlets. Most of these things like wine, TV, and the internet are not inherently wrong, but the problem is when we develop a pattern of meeting relational needs through these outlets instead of relationship. Remember, relationship is the fuel for life, so if you feel you are running on empty, turn to relationships instead of all those other things to get filled up.
Before you have a conversation with your teen about healthy relationships, the most helpful thing you can do is evaluate the quality of relationships in your own life. If you find areas that need improvement, it does not mean you have to be perfect before having conversations with your teen, it just means that you become aware and be honest with your teen about areas that you want to commit to change in your own life in order to be a model of healthy relationships.
If you suspect that a teen you know is currently experiencing abuse in a relationship and may need urgent help, contact us today.