by Liz Schoeben
In recent times, schools, community forums and parents have done a good job of talking to teens about sex. At least it’s better than when I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Now, we need to talk about healthy relationships and love. Many teens are left to figure this out on their own, which can lead them to entering relationships that are unhealthy or even abusive.
A recent study of 18- to 25-year-olds found they want more information from parents about the emotional aspects of romantic relationships. So let’s give it to them.
The conversation should start with talking about what a healthy relationship looks like. Sadly, there are many inaccurate portrayals of teen relationships on TV and in movies. Educating teens about how to love should not be that different from educating them about other activities. Here are a few ways to get the discussion going:
- Healthy relationships require a range of skills, including the ability to communicate honestly, problem solve, measure anger and to be generous. Find examples among relatives, friends, books, your own relationship and relationships on TV shows such as “Blackish,” “Modern Family,” and even “The Bachelor.” How do couples show love and affection? How do they resolve conflicts in a healthy way?
- Discuss ethical issues. What would you do if you caught your male friend cheating on his girlfriend? What would you do if you saw an upperclassman trying to hook up with a freshman?
- Discuss the intense feelings we can have towards others. How do we know what is love and what is infatuation? Are we attracted to someone who is kind and generous or someone who acts aloof and seems unattainable?
As a therapist, I have often been asked by students who are in relationships if it is normal or okay for their boyfriend or girlfriend:
- asks them to text him or her as soon as they get home, to school, or to work
- tells them what to wear or asks them not to wear certain clothes
- gets jealous when they talk to another boy or girl and threatens to beat him or her up
- checks their phone to see who is texting them
It is important that young people understand the differences between controlling and loving, demanding and asking, and consent and coercion. This starts with having these conversations at home in a loving, non-judgmental way.
As much as our teens may act like they don’t care, they want to know how we navigated relationships before meeting our spouse. Share the lessons you learned from heartbreak along the way. It will help normalize it when it happens to them.
There are many great resources out there. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Amaze.org. An online sex education resource for 10-to 14-year-olds.
- Scarleteen.com. It offers sexual and relationships education for teens.
- Stayteen.org. This site offers teens information on sexual health and sexual relationships.
- Southbayfamiliesconnected.org. Offers advice for parents and educators on issues ranging from the new social media landscape to reducing the likelihood that kids will use drugs and alcohol.
Liz Schoeben is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In 2017, she founded CASSY SoCal (www.cassysocal.org), which partners with the Palos Verdes Unified School District to provide students with comprehensive mental health services. Pen