Healthy Teen Relationships

Healthy Teen Relationships

A Guide for Parents and Teens

As teenagers move away from the season of life where they would chose their parent just as quickly as they would choose a friend to play with, parents become more worried about their child making healthy relationships with the peers they seem to spend most of their time with. Building healthy relationships during the teenage years is a crucial aspect of personal development. Parents can play a vital role in guiding their teens through this journey, offering advice that promotes positive connections. Let's explore practical tips for teenagers on fostering healthy relationships and the advice parents can provide. We broke these down into what you might say to your teen and then a separate section for parents that goes more in depth on how to model this for your teen or ideas of when you could communicate about these concepts. 

I. Communication and Active Listening:

Teen Advice: Learn to express your feelings and thoughts openly.

Parental Advice: Listening well to your teenager is a most important way to demonstrate to your child that their perspective is important. You are also modeling how to listen well to someone who may have a different perspective than you. When you are engaging in communication with them, draw attention to the time it takes to listen well and how it feels when someone takes their time in listening. This is often modeled at the dinner table, as people take turns sharing their day or their thoughts. Encourage your teen to actively listen, empathize, and communicate openly. Teach them the importance of expressing themselves while respecting others' perspectives.

II. Boundaries and Respect:

Teen Advice: Establish clear personal boundaries and respect those of others.

Parental Advice: Praise your teen’s efforts at setting boundaries. There may be times when priorities are not fully in line or boundaries are not set, and it is okay to allow them to fail, gently letting natural consequences occur. In your own life, be mindful about your own boundaries and verbalize when you are struggling with maintaining them. Processing outloud the difficult decision of working overtime or sticking to your commitment to yourself to limit your working hours will help your teen as they are talking to themselves going forward. Discuss mutual respect and the significance of healthy personal space in relationships. You could demonstrate this by asking your teen how they are doing emotionally and if they have the capacity to listen to one of the (age appropriate) issues that you have going on. You could check back with them if that is something they practice doing within their friend groups or if they felt comfortable enough to tell you the truth about how they were feeling emotionally. These skills of consent before sharing are best demonstrated and then explored instead of presented in a lecture. 

III. Empathy and Understanding:

Teen Advice: Put yourself in others' shoes to understand their feelings.

Parental Advice: Share with your teen when you are enlightened to a different perspective from your own. Watch movies and discuss with the teen what it would be like to date someone of the culture from the movie or experience the life events displayed there. Through these conversations, you are teaching your teen the value of empathy and understanding in relationships. During times of conflict, resort to active listening and pocket the desire to encourage them to consider different perspectives. After supporting them and their emotions, you can revisit the conflict another time to explore different perspectives. Your support during challenges will help light the way for your teen as they mature and learn about themselves and the world.

IV. Healthy Conflict Resolution:

Teen Advice: Learn constructive ways to resolve conflicts without aggression.

Parental Advice: Guide your teen in handling disagreements positively, focusing on effective communication, compromise, and finding solutions together rather than escalating conflicts. Often, the most important desire your teen has when they bring you their conflict is to be validated. This can sound like mirroring back to them what they are describing to you and possibly helping them identify feeling words that coincide with what they are experiencing. Then you might add, “that sounds really hard” or some other comment on the validity of the pain. This may be the extent of what your teen needs from you in these times. They may feel validated and heard and choose to proceed from there independently. Other times, they might be looking for guidance on responding to a text, voicemail or email and wanting to try some responses with you. This is an opportunity to praise what they are doing well! Notice how they are being careful with their words and respectful in the way they address whomever they are having conflict with. Praise will carry them further than your suggestions or criticism. They need to know that you can envision them handling conflict very successfully and without aggression. You can communicate this by telling them, “I can really see you being a diplomat one day in the way you handle conflict. You are getting good at this.” You can ask them what they hope for in the end of the conflict and what they think the other party is hoping for. You can hold space for their feelings of disappointment and feeling misunderstood. Your ability to remain diplomatic, consider your end goal (to have a great relationship with your teen) and stay calm in conflict with your teenager will be the ultimate model of how to handle conflict successfully. 

V. Building Self-Esteem:

Teen Advice: Foster self-love and embrace individuality.

Parental Advice: Help your teen develop a healthy self-esteem by acknowledging their strengths, encouraging self-acceptance, and emphasizing the importance of inner confidence in building meaningful relationships. This can be a very task, as teenagers are notorious for pushing boundaries with clothing and accessories and you might feel tempted to critique. Choosing your battles is a necessity and it may be that choosing not to comment on weight, outfit, hobbies, etc would benefit your relationship with your teen and their self esteem. Instead, ask them how they feel about themselves physically, what they like about their style of clothing and how they feel about themselves as a person. You can also highlight for them the values that you see them demonstrate, They may be particularly generous, resourceful, convincing or hardworking. Be sure that these compliments are more frequent than criticisms about their appearance or performance. 

VI. Choosing Healthy Friendships:

Teen Advice: Surround yourself with positive and supportive friends.

Parental Advice: Discuss the impact of peer influence and guide your teen in choosing friends who share similar values. Encourage them to be discerning and prioritize relationships that uplift and inspire. Do an assessment of the people in your own life and your own ability to choose positive and supportive friends. Examining yourself is always a great place to start and making changes, however small, for yourself is the most powerful way to communicate to your teenager that you really believe what you are telling them to be true. It is also a way to empathize with how difficult it can be to choose who to spend your time with. 

VII. Digital Etiquette and Safety:

Teen Advice: Be mindful of online interactions and prioritize digital safety.

Parental Advice: Online friendships can go to very emotionally deep places very quickly. There is a less of a “warming up” phase where you test the waters and decipher if you can trust someone. For this reason, teens continue to need occasional check ins regarding their friendships on social media. Some families have a general rule that social media should not be used to make new friends that you have never met in person. Others use time limits or durations of time where communication can be done digitally. These all act as guardrails on the highway and keep your teen from going off the deep end. Discuss responsible social media use regularly, as teens may become curious at different stages. Online etiquette regarding what your parameters and rules around what can be shared over social media is an ongoing conversation. One way is to periodically ask your teen what the craziest thing they have heard about happening from their friends and the consequences that happened. You can also share about scams and phishing that is current. Emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy relationships both online and offline.

VIII. Independence and Interdependence:

Teen Advice: Foster independence while appreciating interdependence in relationships.

Parental Advice: With technology being such a large part of friendships and going deeper emotionally than you would in person, it can be easy for your teen to find themselves enmeshed in a relationship. Guide your teen in balancing independence with the understanding that healthy relationships involve collaboration, shared responsibilities, and mutual support. You may provide boundaries of alternating days where they are allowed to stay out of the house with friends and days where you would like them to be volunteering, working or home with the family. These guidelines help them to separate themselves as a person and develop their own interests outside of their special friendships. There may also be times when you help your teen assess the balance of giving and receiving in the relationship. Whether is it that your teen needs to be encouraged to bring value to their friendships or to keep an eye on taking care of themselves will be up to your teen and how they are wired. Finding a balance is tough!

IX. Seeking Guidance When Needed:

Teen Advice: Don't hesitate to seek advice from trusted adults or professionals.

Parental Advice: Encourage an open line of communication and assure your teen that seeking guidance is a sign of strength. This may look like ensuring you have routine down time together with your teen. It may be a car ride, walk or haircut appointment that is recurring on the calendar and you check in during those times. Praise your teen when they do reach out for help. Model asking for help and verbalizing the process of recognizing that you may need help, deciding if you are going to ask and how you feel about asking after. Remind them that you are there to support and guide them through relationship challenges. 

Navigating healthy relationships as a teenager is a learning process, and parents serve as essential guides. By fostering open communication, modeling essential relationship skills, and offering advice grounded in respect and empathy, parents can empower their teens to build meaningful connections that contribute to their personal growth and well-being.

  1. Yang YC, Boen C, Gerken K, Mullan Harris K. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. PNAS. 2016;113(3):578-583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112