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by Rebecca Cooper Traynor

Talking to your kids about their dating lives

Although it’s never easy to know just how to approach the subject, it’s a conversation that needs to happen: talking to our children about THEIR dating lives. No matter how you feel about it, it’s going to happen. One day, your child will not be so child- like anymore. Puberty, hormones, feelings, and all the talk and activity that go along with these things – as hard as it is for them, these are probably going to be the most challenging times you will face as a parent.

Create a judgment-free zone
Approaching dating and relationships non-judgmentally and with compassion is crucial or you risk alienating your child, but not talking about it can lead to a lot of misunderstanding, hurt and heartbreak. You have an opportunity to share what you’ve learned and what your parents taught you in the beginning. As difficult as it is, wouldn’t you rather they hear it from you rather than from a friend in their peer group or on a largely unrealistic TV show?

Kids have lives of their own – respect that and keep the conversation about them 
We need to be mindful that even though they are our children, our kids have lives of their own and need to be free to make choices, to fall in love, and to make mistakes along the way. Our initial instinct is to protect. We may not want to interfere, but when a child’s innocence is at issue—or the innocence we think they have—a thoughtful, respectful conversation needs to take place, even if it’s only to let them know that you are there for them, no matter what. In having this conversation, keep the focus on them. You want your children to understand how the dating process works and that they get to decide who they want to have in their life, as opposed to having somebody decide that for them.

What to share, what not to share?
Life and love experience is incredibly valuable. It is a whole new aspect of their lives that you can share in, but it’s important to mentally prepare yourself before you jump in and blurt out how you really feel about the person they are thinking about dating. Prior to having this discussion, think of thoughtful advice and dating tips that you feel are worth sharing. The truth is, not everything needs to be shared. It’s totally fine to keep some secrets securely locked in the vault. Here are some topics you can think about. You don’t have to give it to them all at once, but some issues need to be brought to the table, no matter how awkward they are:

  • Talk about what a healthy relationship looks like.
  • Discuss all the different types of abuse (emotional, sexual, physical, control, stalking, bullying, manipulation) and the warning signs that precede it.
  • Talk about the difference between love, lust, and infatuation/crush.
  • Talk about sex in realistic terms.
  • Define clear boundaries and expectations.
  • Be supportive, open, and inclusive.

Don’t add to their confusion
When children are in their adolescence, it’s a challenging time for everyone. They begin to notice others around them and they may start having that spark of interest in getting to know someone beyond just being their friend.

Kids are confused enough – after all, being a teenager is one of the hardest times in our lives. Hormones are raging out of control, they are bombarded with influences that come at them from every angle, and they are really just getting to know themselves and their sexuality.

True, most kids will cringe at the thought of speaking to their parents about dating. However, there is a way to go about doing it in a mindful way, one that will be positive, impactful, and not as embarrassing for them.

So, when I think about what kind of dating advice I would want to offer my children as they
enter the dating world, here is what comes to mind:

  • You can speak to me about anything, I am here to help and listen, not to judge!
  • I love and care about you, you and your happiness are precious to me.
  • Don’t do something just because you are feeling pressured by others.
  • This is your life, and nobody gets to make your choices for you.
  • Get to know yourself before you get to know others.
  • Be known for your brains first.
  • Don’t rush into sex too quickly.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable in a situation, it’s okay to leave.
  • You don’t NEED a partner to be complete.

Creating a safe haven
There is so much information out there for kids to get their hands on, whether it is through social media or on the web. It’s always better for you to be the teacher so you can help them learn and guide their thinking in a healthy way. Creating a safe, open environment where they know they can come to you about anything without being judged is key. Once you establish this trust and they know that you are a safe haven, you can be confident that they will continue to ask questions and seek your advice, even
when the situation is highly personal to them.

Do you remember what life was like when you were young? Think about the support you wish you had and manifest it for your own children. Consider it a gift to your younger self.

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