Helping your Teenager through a Relationship
Q: I don’t know what to expect. My 14-year-old daughter is dating, and I’m worried about her getting hurt.
The fear that your teen may be hurt is realistic. In fact, if she cares about someone and then changes her mind, or he does, there is bound to be hurt and pain. You have probably also experienced that pain. Brace yourself and your daughter; this is a normal part of being in a relationship. Learning how to deal with it is how you can help her. If you are prepared for the possible pain and disappointments ahead, then you can help your daughter as she moves through all the stages of dating relationships.
Realize that your daughter already has experiences that will help her in evaluating relationships. She is part of your family. She has learned many skills over the years that will help her now. She knows she is valued, is listened to, has the freedom to express herself, and has worked through problems with family members.
It might be helpful for you to think in terms of assisting her in evaluating her new dating relationship as it takes its natural course. You might even share how you knew your relationships were working and how you knew when they weren’t. Some teens start dating and find someone who needs a person to “make them feel good about themselves.” That is not a good basis for a dating relationship.
Respect should play a big role in the relationship. I hope your daughter has selected a boyfriend who treats her respectfully. If he is reliable, honest, sensitive to her feelings, and listens to her when a miscommunication has occurred, she probably feels safe with him and valued in the relationship. If he is controlling, judgmental, harsh with his language with her, and mean to her, make sure she knows that healthy relationships do not include that kind of behavior.
If you see her being treated disrespectfully and blaming herself for it, try to understand why she thinks she is responsible for his behavior, or why she thinks she deserves to be treated that way. She may fear that no one will want her, or she may be self-critical and agree with what he is saying. If this is true, it is a good time for her to talk to someone professionally. This is a dangerous form of low self-esteem.
Don’t rely on her talking to her peers about this issue.
Another area for your daughter to evaluate is how she feels about her boyfriend. Does she respect what he does, how he talks, how he treats his friends and family? Does she respect the way he takes care of himself? Does he practice good hygiene? Does he talk about himself in a positive light? Is he focused on the future and possibilities ahead?
There is another issue you need to be thinking about when she talks about her boyfriend, which is abuse. There are too many instances of verbal, physical and/or sexual violence in teen relationships. There are many programs on the Web designed to educate teens about abusive behavior. Life is too precious for anyone to be treated abusively. The American Bar Association has put out a great fact sheet for teens, parents, and community professionals at: www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/unmet/teenabuseguide.authcheckdam.pdf
What has been the role modeling she has seen with you and her dad? Does she hear you giving and receiving compliments? How has she seen you deal with conflict? Does she see you working out differences? Has she seen you communicating plans and honoring separateness as well as together time? Perhaps most importantly, does she see you trusting one another and being trustworthy? It is great if she has these examples. If she doesn’t, then you can point those processes out in others, in movies and in TV shows. Parenthood is one of my favorites. Other shows include: Modern Family, Lie to Me, Medium and The Middle. Most importantly, model all those skills in your relationship with her.
What if this relationship is not good and either she breaks up with him or he breaks up with her? She may need you to help her get over the relationship and learn what went wrong. This, as anything else, will need to occur in stages. Allow your daughter the space she needs to grieve while making sure she knows you are there for her if she needs someone who will listen. If you have found journaling or a similar activity helpful to you, let her know that writing often works as a way to stop reliving painful experiences.
You may want to share how you recovered from a high school sweetheart break up. If you have pictures to make it even more real, share those. Tell her what it took for you to be open to trust and care about someone again.
Distraction and finding meaning in learning something new or helping someone might help after a break-up. After a time, it might be good for her to take a class, volunteer somewhere, or help someone in the neighborhood.
How do you take care of yourself after a bad experience? Do you like to get out in nature, go to a movie, read a book, or talk to a wise friend? Some people go visit friends they haven’t seen in awhile. Others help at their church, take up a sport or work out. Make sure your daughter is not impatient with her grief. Help her understand that dating is a process just like getting over a relationship is a process. The most important thing for her to remember is how special she is. Even though it may be difficult, if your daughter experiences a break-up while she is still at home, she will have comfort and support to ease the pain. Good luck!