Teen Dating

I don’t generally go looking on Facebook for nuggets of wisdom, but sometimes I stumble upon them. Today is one of those days.

Context: a meme is circulating about how parents can look after their dating teens, as follows:

The responses to it are a great source of information not just about people’s opinions, but about their backgrounds and life experiences. For instance, some people maintain that parents have no business getting involved in their teens’ relationships unless the teens themselves want them involved. And, OK, yeah, family boundaries matter… but I was not aware that pedophilia was no longer a thing. Teens might not want their parents to pay attention to their relationships – I sure didn’t – but that doesn’t mean that they are not in danger of being abused. So, yes, it is incredibly important for parents to respect their children’s autonomy and to teach them about healthy boundaries by demonstrating them in real life, but it’s also important for parents to protect their children from abuse.

This is what Dawn Michelle Williams has to say on the subject:

  • Talk to kids about how a good relationship should look even before they’re in one.
  • Also talk about what a bad relationship looks like. Including what constitutes abuse by a partner.
  • Make sure they know that you do not have to be married, living with a partner, be an adult or experience physical violence – to experience “domestic abuse”(a better term is relationship abuse imo).
  • Emphasise that some relationships start out well but over time gradually worsen – early signs include complaining about aspects of appearance, seeming very put-out if you spend time with other friends instead of them, continually talking about how awesome an ex is. These can be ways to erode your confidence over time or the early stages of isolating you.
  • Emphasise that at any point they feel upset, worried or scared they can walk away from that person and you’ll collect them with no judgement, and that they can end the relationship because they are entitled to be treated well.
  • Be a great role model in your relationships – this is a major factor. What they see you experience is what they will believe to be normal.
  • Avoid telling your child that you loathe their partner – if they’re not a good person they will likely already have begun planting seeds on your child’s mind that everyone is against their partner and so this will only serve to “prove them right”.
  • Believe me that teens can be really good at hiding what is going on. They aren’t going to want you to ban them from seeing their partner – either because they don’t realise that what’s going on isn’t ok, the partner has them convinced they’re not worth any more than what they’re getting or has made threats- so they may not open up to you. The better and safer your relationship is with them the more likely that they will.
  • Finally talk about this from both perspectives before they start having relationships. Not just what they should expect from a good relationship but also in terms of how to be a good partner.

This is important. Unpleasant, but important. It is particularly important because children learn from what they see. The vast majority of what passes as “romantic” in the media would be straight-up toxic in real life, but we normalise it. We normalise it every time we don’t call it out when we see it.

The more children know about these issues, the less likely they are to need adult intervention – or, hopefully, the more likely they are to seek adult intervention if they need it. Not breaching the subject with them because “they are too young to know” means that they could stumble into dangerous situations without realising it. And by that point, it might be too late to stop them from getting hurt.