Helping your teen make a healthy relationship choice

By Kaycee Jane

Are you concerned about what your daughter believes love is? About how fast your teen daughter’s relationship is moving? About whether she’s choosing the right partner? About the kind of influence he’ll have on her?

If you asked your teen, “What do you think love is?” would she use fulfillment of her own wants and needs as one definition? Would she say something like, “When you’re familiar with a guy (his traits, likes, dislikes), and you can accept him (for who he is, and the decisions he makes), and you value him (share what you feel, think, believe)…”

“That’s not typically what you’re going to hear from teens,” says Julius Licata, Director of TeenCentral.net and ParentCentral.net. “More often you’ll get, ‘Why are you asking?’”

“You have to hear what your teen believes before you can offer your insight. The key is to talk to her every day,” he says. “Even if you’re busy, even if it’s for five minutes. In time she’ll trust you and stop thinking you’re prying. Be open to her understanding of what love is. Don’t say ‘You don’t know what love is.’ She knows what it is for her.”

You can help her detangle the complicated process of making a healthy choice, Licata says. A teen needs simple, clear steps to make a boyfriend choice. In a healthy relationship, she’ll earn respect by meeting her own needs first – the need to be familiar with, to accept, to be interesting, to be important and to value herself.

What does your daughter do with intense feelings of attraction? Some girls spend time “getting to know a guy” – they talk, text, hang out. Some “hook up” quickly. How can you help her know when to move to the “boyfriend stage”?
Start here: Is your daughter familiar with herself? Asked to describe herself, would she list the same traits you would? Do you help her by letting her know when you see her as being a good listener, honest, kind? And when you see her as being demanding, thoughtless, selfish? To respect herself, your daughter has to get her needs met with character – by saying what she means, doing what she says, knowing right from wrong. In a healthy relationship she’ll be able to stand up for her rights, her need to value herself, to say what she thinks and feels.

Present this scenario: “Say you really like a guy, but he’s not part of the in-crowd. Your friends think he’s a loser; in fact, your best friend says, ‘Forget him, no one even likes him.’ What would you do?” Then, Licata suggests, let her talk. Many teens will say, “I’m not sure what I’d do.”

If that’s what she says, give her this information: “You have a right to your own feelings, wants and decisions. It may feel like the cost is getting judged, not fitting in. But it’s not.” And ask her this: “How much of you are you willing to give up, compromise, to be accepted? Would you date a guy your friends like, just to be accepted?” A person shows you respect by letting you be who you are. If they don’t accept who you are, they won’t accept the decisions you make. Friends shouldn’t turn away from you for having a different opinion. Ask your daughter: “Would you ask your friend to respect your decision and give the ‘unpopular guy’ a try?’”

In a healthy relationship, she’ll be able to recognize what it feels like to get a need met. Let’s take the need to be familiar with a guy. Ask her: “What do you like about him?” Let her talk. Ask what his best and worst personality traits are. Partners don’t have to have the same traits for a relationship to be healthy. But if you’re honest and he’s a liar, or you’re even-tempered and he’s aggressive or you’re a giver and he’s a taker, these stark differences are unhealthy. You should stop, not move to the boyfriend stage.

Your daughter needs to see how a guy gets his needs met from her – if he’s respecting her or not – right from the beginning. Say a guy says, “If you go to the party while I’m at work, I won’t be around anymore.” Ask her this: “Would you go anyway?” Let her talk. Many teens will say they’re not sure what they’d do. Give her this information: an ultimatum manipulates you into making a decision you don’t want to make. It’s not healthy. Ask her: “Why would you give up your right to decide to meet your own wants – to go to a party – to anyone?” Then let her talk. Point out that a guy who respected her would say, “I’d really rather you didn’t go,” then give her a good reason why. The healthy response would be: “I’d prefer you didn’t, but the choice is yours.”

If a guy uses ultimatums or takes away her right to decide what she wants to do, she shouldn’t move to the boyfriend stage. She needs to be able to identify her wants and needs and talk to the guy about them. In a healthy relationship, she’ll be able to have a heart-to-heart about anything. Your daughter needs to see that she’s important to a guy—that he includes her feelings and needs in his choices. Say she’s at a party with a guy she’s getting to know, and he spends his time flirting with other girls. Licata suggests asking her, “Do you think you’d have a right to feel confused and jealous?” Many teens will say, “I’m not sure.”

She has that right. We all have a need to feel important, to happily accept how anyone treats us, whether a boyfriend or not. Ask her: “Could you tell him you felt disrespected, not special?” Let her talk. If she tells the guy how she feels or what she needs, and he ignores her, he’s saying: “What I need is important; what you need is not.” That’s not healthy. She should not move on to the boyfriend stage. If either person in a relationship doesn’t respect the other’s feelings, needs, likes, dislikes or goals, it’s not a healthy relationship. When one makes the other feel less adequate, less important or less valuable, that’s not healthy.

Knowing what makes for a healthy relationship lets your daughter make a healthy boyfriend choice. If she can stand up for her rights – her feelings, needs and beliefs – she can let a guy know who she is. And that’s how she builds self-esteem in her teen years.

Share this heart-saving shortcut with her: “Love is more than just words. Love is what you experience when he’s happily meeting your needs and you’re happily meeting his, all the while maintaining your self-respect and meeting your own needs, too.”

That’s not crazy, and it’s not little. It’s love.|

This article is based on podcasts at www.TeenCentral.Net and www.ParentCentral.Net between Julius Licata, Director of Teen Central.net, and Kaycee Jane, author of “Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends” (available on Amazon).

Kaycee Jane has an EMBA from Simon Fraser University. Frog or Prince? The smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends has garnered reviews from individuals such as Dr. Mary Pipher (Reviving Ophelia). She co-develops articles and podcasts with Julius Licata, Director of Teen Central.Net and Parent Central.Net. She blogs for both youth and adults at www.frogorprince.ca.