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By Rachel Ehmke

As parents we often aren’t sure what our role should be when a child is old enough to start dating. Should we be laying down the rules? Minding our own business?

Teenagers can be prickly about their privacy, especially when it comes to something as intimate as romance. The potential for embarrassment all around can prevent us from giving them any advice for having healthy and happy relationships.

Teenagers do look to us for guidance, though—even when they’d rather die than acknowledge that they are—and we can often have more influence than we realize.

With this in mind, here are some relationship Dos and Don’ts you can share with your kids. You can start bringing these things up long before they start dating, and continue affirming them as kids get more experience. And do your best to lead by example and model these values in your own relationships, too.

Do look for someone you feel comfortable with

Being comfortable with someone means:

  • You can be yourself around her.
  • You can have different opinions on something, and know that it’s okay.
  • You trust each other when you’re not together.
  • You aren’t pressured to do things you don’t want to do. (This definitely includes sexual things, but also other things, like going somewhere you don’t want to go, or wearing something you don’t want to wear.)

Don’t forget your friends

Some people will drop all their friends after they start dating someone. They might not mean for it to happen, but it still does. Don’t be that person! No one wants a friend who will throw her over for someone else, and you still need a social life outside your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Do be your own person

It’s natural to share interests with the person you’re dating, but you also need to keep developing an identity outside of that person, too. Keep thinking about what you like and what you need. Have an interest that’s just yours. It will improve your self-esteem, and being confident in yourself makes you more likely to be confident in your relationship.

Don’t hide from problems

If you encounter a problem in your relationship, don’t panic. A problem does not automatically mean that the relationship is doomed. However, problems only get bigger when people hide from them. It’s much better to admit when something is wrong, talk about it together, and try to fix it together. It might feel scary, or awkward, to do this, but you still should. It will get easier over time, and working through problems is going to be part of any good relationship.

Do know the difference between good and bad conflict

We tend to think of conflict as a bad thing, but it isn’t always. Conflict can even bring a couple closer together if they are able to stick to these rules during a disagreement:

  • Explain how you feel and be specific
  • Listen to how she feels and try to be understanding
  • Avoid generalizations
  • Don’t bring up past disagreements
  • Try to say things that are productive—not critical

Do know the signs of an abusive relationship

If you are in an abusive relationship your boyfriend or girlfriend might:

  • Be constantly critical of you, and make you feel bad
  • Try to keep you away from your friends or family
  • Want to check your phone messages
  • Use social media to monitor where you are and who you are talking to
  • Threaten that something bad will happen if you break up
  • Force you to do things you don’t want to do
  • Make you feel guilty
  • Hurt you

A few Dos and Don’ts just for parents:

Do listen and communicate with your teen

Kids don’t confide in their parents as much as they get older, so when kids do feel like talking, really make an effort to be available and listen.

Don’t look squeamish

You (and your teen) might feel awkward talking about romantic relationships, but do your best to look comfortable during any talks. If you look too worried or negative they will be less likely to come to you if they want to talk.

Don’t recreate Romeo and Juliet

Try to be supportive of your son or daughter’s romantic choices unless you truly need to speak out. Remember that teens can be extremely emotional and defensive — especially in response to parental criticism. You don’t want to drive them away from you (and further into the relationship you’re questioning) by being too judgmental.

Originally published on childmind.org.

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  • Child Mind Institute

    Transforming children’s lives

    The Child Mind Institute is an independent, national nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Our teams work every day to deliver the highest standards of care, advance the science of the developing brain and empower parents, professionals and policymakers to support children when and where they need it most.