Understanding romantic teenage relationships

When young people start dating, there are a whole lot of emotions and expectations attached. As a parent, you have an important role in supporting your teen through the highs and lows of the experience by modelling positive behaviours, providing a listening ear and offering support.

Not only will this help your teen feel reassured as they learn how to navigate romantic relationships, but it will also help you to stay connected with them while they’re going through this very intense and exciting period.

This can help if you:

  • suspect your teenager is thinking about a relationship

  • want to make sure your teenager engages in respectful relationships

  • want your teenager to feel safe and respected in relationships.

Embracing and understanding teen romance

Beginning romantic relationships is a major part of growing up. But like many parents, you might initially feel uncomfortable with the idea of your child dating. It’s normal to feel scared, worried or sometimes sad about it. You may even feel the urge to discourage them from pursuing relationships in their teens. But just like acne, facial hair or mood swings, there’s often not much you can do about it other than accept that it’s happening, support them and try to make the best of it.

How will my teenager experience romantic relationships?

Teenagers can go through a lot of emotional ups and downs in romantic relationships. Adolescence is already overwhelming enough, whether it’s dealing with changing friendships, exam stress or puberty. Romantic relationships add to the already long list of life changes they’re learning to cope with.

When teens begin romantic relationships, it’s exciting, consuming, fun and, sometimes, heartbreaking. So, be prepared to help them deal with a whole spectrum of emotions. Let them know that they can come to you in the good times, as well as when things are getting tough.

Chances are that when your teen is in a relationship, it might seem like that’s all they can concentrate on or care about (particularly if it’s a new relationship). Naturally, you might worry about this, especially if you feel they should be focusing instead on school, friendships or other important events.

Being distracted by a love interest is pretty normal for people of all ages, not just teens. But if you’re really concerned about the amount of time they’re spending with the person they’re dating, chat to them about it while being supportive and open to their views on what’s happening for them.

If you’re looking for pointers, check out these tips for communicating with your teen.

What if I don’t understand the type of relationship my teen is in?

Relationship styles are always evolving. If you haven’t heard of a certain type of relationship before, or if it wasn’t widely talked about among your generation, it makes sense that you might not totally understand it. And that’s okay.

Even if you don’t have much knowledge or experience with your teen’s approach to dating (e.g. online dating), or the dynamic they have with their partner, the main thing is that you’re there for them. You can still guide them on what respect looks like and how to deal with certain issues, while learning from them, too.

How can I help my teenager engage in a healthy romantic relationship?

The best way to show support is to be open to talking with your teen about their relationship. Let them know that they can come to you for support, and be sure not to be dismissive of their experiences.

Depending on their age, you may need to have a conversation around sex. If that’s the case, try not to be judgemental. You want them to feel they can come to you with anything. You might feel a bit awkward at first, but you’ll likely have more peace of mind knowing that they’re not keeping secrets from you and that you can help them with tough situations.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that the most influential people in a teenager’s life are often the adults around them. So, as a parent, it’s important that you’re a positive role model.

This means leading by example and engaging in respectful relationships with the friends and family that you care about. This is a crucial part of your child being able to understand what a healthy romantic relationship looks like, and learning how to create one.

Talking to your child directly about respectful relationships is also an important step in them learning about boundaries, recognising respect and, importantly, what to do if they are being mistreated.

Looking for more information?

You’ll find some more tips on supporting your teen with romantic relationships here. You might also find it helpful to share our youth resources on romantic relationships and sex with your teen.