From the moment that children are born, parents play an essential role in ensuring their comfort and protection.  As children grow into adolescence, parents’ roles naturally evolve into helping them interact with the world in a positive and healthy way.  A common way that teenagers interact with their world and discover parts of their own identity is through their various relationships.  During the pre-teen and teen years, it is critical for youth to begin learning the necessary skills to create and maintain healthy relationships.

Teenagers tend to utilize observational learning; they watch others, retain that information, and then later repeat the behaviors that they observed.  When teenagers start dating, they attempt to balance all of the information that they are learning with the intense desire to be liked or approved of by an intimate partner.  If teenagers do not have a baseline for what a healthy intimate relationship is supposed to look like; it can be difficult and potentially confusing for them to create that on their own.   

Teenagers are also forced to navigate through the many societal messages on gender roles and relationships.  Society and mainstream media repeatedly reinforce the idea that masculinity is defined by being powerful, strong, and in control.  Without appropriate guidance, control can quickly turn into psychological and emotional abuse, threats, possessiveness, intimidation, and physical violence.

Throughout their attempts to formulate intimate relationships, teenagers continue to be highly influenced by the adults around them. Parents have the power to be positive role models and engage in respectful relationships so that their youth can see what that should look like.

Here are some ways that parents can model and promote healthy intimate relationships:

Parents can allow teenagers to feel safe, heard, and accepted

These positive parenting behaviors help teenagers form positive internal working models of themselves as loveable and worthy.

Parents can expand their own awareness of what a healthy relationship looks like so that they are better able to model it and explain the dynamics to their teenagers

Parents should be aware of how they regulate their own emotions and manage conflict in intimate relationships.

Parents can promote an open dialogue with their teens

  • Recognize and validate their emotions.
  • Talk to them about their fears.
  • Talk to them about healthy relationships; what they are versus what they are not.
  • Talk to them about boundaries; both their boundaries and your boundaries.  Continue to work towards establishing privacy boundaries that you both can agree on.
  • Learn to manage your own assumptions and judgments.

A respectful, loving, and supportive relationship between parents and teenagers and between parents themselves can set a healthy and important standard.  Teenagers can use what they witness at home as a guide for how to form and maintain safe, happy intimate relationships.  Now is always the best time to help your teen expand on their awareness of healthy relationships.