Positive and respectful relationships are a very important part of growing up, and they will lead your child to having a deeper capacity for caring, empathy and communication. Your support is vital to them being able to understand what a respectful relationship looks like, and how to create one.
The most influential people in a teenager’s life are the adults around them. The single most important thing you can do is to be a positive role model, by having respectful relationships with the friends and family that you yourself care about. Reflect on the principles outlined below, and think about how they can be applied in your own relationships - with other adults, and with your child.
What a respectful relationship looks like
- Communication. It is never assumed that our partner knows what we are feeling or thinking, or that we know what is in their head. The only effective way to know and to be understood is to talk often, talk calmly, and talk openly.
- Consent. Anything that happens in regard to the relationship happens with the active agreement of both people involved. This includes things like sex, discussing private matters with others, and major decisions that affect the other partner.
- Recognising the effects of our actions. We think about the effects of our actions and choices on our partner. Will it cause someone to be hurt, or create conflict?
- Respect. We are always respectful of each other’s feelings and choices. If we’re not sure how someone feels, we ask, we don’t assume. If we truly care about someone, we would want to see them happy and supported in the choices they make about themselves and their lives.
How to talk with your teenager about respectful relationships
Having conversations about sex, relationships and communication from a young age makes it possible for your child to feel comfortable talking with you about their feelings and relationships in their adolescence.
- Encourage conversations about feelings, friendships and family relationships. This will help them understand and look for important qualities in relationships.
- Practice active listening. Listen to what your teenager says and ask them open questions (“What are you feeling about him?”). Repeat back some of what you have heard or what you think they mean, to check you understand.
- If they want your opinion. Don’t tell them what you want them to do. Tell them how you see the situation. For example, say “It sounds to me like you really like this person, but they don’t listen to you very much.
Important topics for your child to talk about
There is a lot of information here that is worth talking about, and you won’t do it all in one conversation. Talking often with your child means you can explore these ideas one at a time, and maintain a communicative relationship with your teenager.
Being clear about what you want
Many people are afraid to talk with their partner or love interest about their relationship. They are afraid that they will disagree about what they want or feel, and they will lose the relationship. But being able to talk about a relationship is the single most important factor in whether it is a good relationship. Topics that should be talked about include sex, having feelings towards other people, how exclusive the relationship is, and respectful boundaries.
- Talk about what you expect a relationship to be like.
- Talk about what is or isn’t ok for each of you.
- Talk about what the relationship should involve.
- Check in whenever feelings change or something new comes up that you haven’t talked about.
Jealousy is not an emotion really, it’s a label for a lot of other unpleasant feelings - like insecurity, fear of abandonment, feeling left out or not good enough, or worry that our partner doesn’t love us or isn’t attracted to us. We feel so bad we want to blame someone else or their actions.
- Use jealousy as a signpost to what you are really feeling. Try to describe it. Talk about this with your partner.
- Talking about our feelings is awkward. But it makes us feel better and makes it possible to work out our problems.
- Jealousy is never an excuse for people to be mean, hurtful, abusive or controlling.
Sex and sexuality
Not all teenagers do, but most teenagers experiment with sexual behaviour at some stage. Giving them clear information on safe sex, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections means they are equipped to be safe. Plus, having this conversation early and more than once, means you can also talk about unwanted sexual behaviour and peer pressure.
Puberty is also when some teenagers begin to feel attracted to members of the same-sex, or many feel attractions to more than one sex.
Your child’s romantic lives is theirs. If they’d like information but don’t know where to go you could recommend that:
- They read the youth fact sheets on ReachOut.com for more ideas worth talking about. We recommend Tips for communicating and Choosing to have a relationship.
- You read How to help your teenager have good relationship boundaries.