This blog post was originally written by our partner campaign, We Say NO MÁS, and posted on their blog. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and these conversation tools below are useful in beginning what can be a challenging dialogue. We encourage you to continue the conversations all year.
As children are exposed to new ideas and experiences, it can be hard to know what to say. Nobody has all of the answers; what is most important is to keep your conversations going.
Encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection. Allow children of all ages to express their ideas, expectations, questions, and concerns. Be careful not to dismiss their ideas as “wrong” or “childish.” Rather, encourage dialogue by asking them to tell you more or describe how they arrived at a certain conclusion. Children, especially teens, will look to you for information, advice, and answers only if they feel you are open to their questions and thoughts. It’s up to you to create the kind of environment in which your children can ask questions about any subject freely and without fear of consequences.
“What would make it easier for you to talk to your parents about dating or other sensitive subjects?
- If my mom had more time.
- If my dad would hear me out more.
- If I was closer to my dad.
- I like when they don’t judge.”
-From conversations with Latina girls ages 13-17
Conversations about sexuality and relationships become easier and more natural with time. And you may make mistakes – accept and acknowledge that, and continue to be clear about your values and help your children make responsible, healthy choices. And some “review” can be helpful; for example: Children who learn best by taking in small bits of information at a time won’t learn all they need to know about a topic from a single conversation. So, for example, let some time pass, and then ask them what they remember about when last you talked. This will help you figure out – together – where to pick up the conversation and how to continue talking about the topics in ways that are most effective for the two of you.
Be the kind of person you want your child to become.
Use language and actions that are respectful, empathetic, positive, and appropriate in your own conversations and relationships with family, friends, and community members. For example, if you are using slang or derogatory terms to describe women and girls, your children are very likely to believe what you say and model your behavior and vocabulary.
Your children are always watching and learning from you because they respect you and look up to you. One child development expert said, “Kids hear about 1% of what we say and 100% of what we do.”
Remember that teens want mutually respectful conversations.
Avoid dictating and lecturing. Share your feelings, values and learn about those of your teen. Questions, debates, and even challenges are signs you are doing things well – it means your children are listening and value your experience, insight, and opinions. But remember that you cannot dictate another person’s feelings, values, or decisions – the best you can do is to love and support your children, including when they choose differently than you would or make mistakes.
Learn more about How to Deepen the Conversation About Healthy Relationships.
- Talking with kids or Cómo hablar con los niños (includes age-by-age insights/astucía a cualquier edad) by PBS Parents
- Parent-teen relationships or Relación entre padres e hijos adolescentes by Planned Parenthood/Tools for Parents
- Keeping teens healthy by setting boundaries or Cuidar la salud de los adolescents por medio de límites by Planned Parenthood/Tools for Parents
1. Rich, M.O. (2014). Communicating with your teen: Avoiding the “should do”. In Reaching teens: Strength-based communication strategies to build resilience and support healthy adolescent development. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.