Mike Domitrz of Dating Safe Project shares how parents can help their teen sons build healthy dating relationships.
A common question parents have is, “What is the best way to talk to my son about healthy dating?”. Start by describing what healthy dating looks and feels like. As you engage in this conversation, ASK QUESTIONS that lead to your son making the discoveries for himself instead of you telling him (avoid lecturing). By your son making the discovery himself, he will take more ownership of the right standards to pursue in dating.
Here is a list of some of the starting qualities for your son to seek out for building a healthy dating relationship:
1. Equal Choices: Neither partner controls the decision-making in the relationship. You both discuss what each of you wants to do and no one partner has a greater influence.
2. Valued Independence: You both appreciate and honor the fact you have additional friends and relationships that are important to your happiness. Instead of being jealous your dating partner is not always with you, be happy for your partner that he/she has friends he/she is loyal to and enjoys being with (including without you).
3. Freedom from Possession: You never feel a need for either of you to “Have to Check-In” and tell your dating partner where you are, who you are with, and/or what you are doing. Healthy dating means no one is possessive of another person’s life. Some teenagers are constantly texting each other – reporting precisely what they are doing. Such behavior is not healthy.
4. Friendship ROCKS and Is FUN. Your dating relationship is built on friendship FIRST. You enjoy being with each other and can have lots of fun just chatting for hours (like a BEST FRIEND –which is the goal of having a healthy dating relationship).
5. Attraction: Ah, the fun part. Yes, you should feel an attraction and passion toward your dating partner. If not, enjoy and treasure a non-dating friendship with each other. Misleading a partner that you are attracted to him/her when you are not – is uncaring and can be cruel.
6. You feel SAFE ALL THE TIME: Partners who respect each other do NOT pressure each other to engage in activities they are not both equally comfortable with – including but not limited to sexual decision-making, sexting (which is illegal when involving minors), alcohol, and drugs.
7. ASK FIRST: Before engaging in intimacy – starting with a kiss to any additional sexual intimacy, you talk about each other’s boundaries and comfort zones. You honor each other’s bodies as temples. You ASK FIRST before you engage in any intimacy AND always honor your partner’s answer. If he/she says, “No,” respond with “Then I’m glad I asked because I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
FYI: If you can’t talk about it, you are not ready. Not being ready is okay. Slow down until both of you are 100% ready.
8. RESPECT: You respect your partner for he/she is as a person (and your partner does the same for you). Too many teens get caught up more in being “attracted” to someone based on physical attraction than the connection and friendship they have together. Both of you deserve to be respected as people first. A warning sign that indicates a partner is NOT respecting you is the following: When you voice an opinion, are you commonly ridiculed or appreciated? Being ridiculed instead of appreciated is NOT okay. Make sure you are honoring your partner’s self-expression too.
SEXTING and respect. Part of respect is never breaching the privacy of what the two of you have together – EVER.
Consequently, you never use your relationship to get a partner to send inappropriate images of his/her self. You also never use your relationship as a status builder among your peers.
9. LET LOVE TAKE TIME: One of the biggest mistakes parents make is saying “You’ll know you are in love when it happens.”
NO!!!!! As a parent, are you forgetting how confusing it is to figure out the difference between love and lust when you are first sexually attracted to someone as a teenager? Do you remember how many teens you knew that were infatuated with each other – yet they said they were “in love”? What is love? Great question. Many people provide different answers. Do a Google search for “Love” and put together your list of favorite answers – a list that reflects your family’s values and standards.
What we do know is that it takes most teenagers time and patience to really know whether you are in love. In the meantime, have a blast getting to know each other. One of the key factors for a teenager making the best choices in a healthy relationship is for that teenager to have a healthy ego.
What about if your son sees someone not being treated with respect? How will you teach him to intervene? As a caring person, you want your son to know not doing anything is not okay.
Here is an example of how he can intervene:
Jordan and Sam are dating. You hear Jordan talking to others about Sam’s body and/or what the 2 of them are doing sexually. You know this is disrespectful to Sam and so you say to Jordan, “Sam seems like an awesome person, Jordan. After all, you are dating Sam. How would Sam feel about you talking this way with us? I know I’m not comfortable with this conversation and I know you are not one of those guys who treats people like that.” The ending statement is important because you are raising Jordan’s standards and not degrading Jordan with this approach.
Another example is:
Jordan and Sam are classmates who are not dating. You hear Jordan making inappropriate comments about Sam – sexually degrading Sam by calling Sam a “slut.” You say to Jordan, “Jordan, I know you are not someone who believes in degrading others, yet slut is a degrading, cruel word. I’m guessing you didn’t mean to do that just now to Sam. I just don’t see you as someone who would intentionally degrade others.”
Teach your teens to stand up for others. By doing so, all teenagers will be living in a safer world together. Plus, teaching your teen to stand for respect greatly increases the odds he will live with respect for his own partners (and seek partners who respect him equally).