When it comes to teen sex, dating, and romantic relationships, many teen girls feel uncomfortable talking with their parents. They worry about being asked too many questions, being reprimanded, or finding themselves in what they perceive will be an awkward conversation. Consequently, they turn to Google, social media, and their friends. All of which present problems. There is so much misinformation available on Google, along with questionable influencers on platforms like TikTok. Friends can be an amazing support but they too are unreliable and inexperienced.
Ideally, your teenage daughter will look to you for answers, guidance, and support as she navigates the complicated and emotional world of romance. But in order for her to do so, you need to be prepared and willing to lean into conversations that might make you want to scream or at least squirm!
The first layer of preparation is remembering that romantic relationships are a critical part of healthy adolescent development. They are experiences that promote empathy, communication, resilience, and boundary-setting. They are also where girls learn about themselves and their values. When you view your daughter’s relationships as opportunities for growth and learning, you can provide support that deepens her personal and relationship wisdom.
Another important part of preparation is understanding teen dating dynamics. It’s not as black and white as it used to be. Teen relationships evolve in stages. First, there is the interest stage. Sometimes, this is when teens will refer to the person of interest as their “crush.” Usually at this stage, there is very little interaction between two people. Sometimes the other person is completely unaware they are of interest. The second stage is commonly called the “hook-up” stage. During this stage, a couple is usually physically intimate but not exclusive. This stage can be the hardest for girls because they are unsure where they stand and are afraid that they may end the “hook up” if they voice their needs too loudly. The third stage is “dating” which is a bit more serious than the “hook up” stage but often, still not exclusive. Finally, comes the official relationship stage, when two people declare themselves an exclusive couple. Some relationships don’t reach this stage, but if they do, there is a higher level of seriousness which includes feeling in love and for many teens, sex.
Each of these stages can trigger intense emotions and questions for your teen.
If you want her to turn to you for guidance, your openness and compassion are required.
Over the last decade I’ve coached hundreds of girls in the areas of sex, dating, and relationships and based on those conversations, I believe there are a few essential topics for parents to address in order to prepare their daughter to make wise, self-empowering choices in their romantic lives.
Your teen’s values are her anchors and guide the decisions she makes. Talk about values often and relate them to actions. Help your teen define her relationship values and how those values can inform her decisions. You can use these questions to spark insightful conversations:
What’s most important to you in a relationship?
What qualities do you value in a partner?
Simply put, boundaries are what is and what is not OK. Boundaries are what keeps your teen safe and in healthy relationships. With each relationship experience, she will become more clear on what her boundaries are. You can help her understand boundaries by setting a positive example and using boundary language like I feel…, I need…, and This is not OK with me. You can take it a step further by strategizing with your teen how to express boundaries in certain dating situations including saying “no” when she’s being asked to do something she does not want to do, or spend time with someone she is not interested in.
Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships
Help your teen define a healthy and unhealthy relationship. Use examples from the media or real life to help her clarify the characteristics of a healthy relationship. Talk about how her values support a healthy relationship and the role of qualities like trust, communication, and respect.
Talking about sex can be uncomfortable for both parents and teens but it is crucial to provide your teen with information on consent, birth control, and the physical and emotional consequences of sex. As you open up with your teen, listen to her opinion, welcome her questions, and avoid lecturing. Remember the first conversation should not be the least. Keep the conversation ongoing as your teen’s opinion and experiences will evolve.
As you guide your teen in the area of sex, dating, and relationships, be supportive, neutral, and open. This will encourage her to turn to you and make her more receptive to your insight. Remember, while your daughter is under your roof, you have a valuable opportunity to help her develop the awareness, skills, and resilience to navigate her romantic life and create healthy relationships now and well into her future.