One of the great privileges of being a parent is helping our kids navigate all the various milestones and hurdles they are bound to face during their adolescence. As parents, it’s important to note that throughout these years, the relationships that they choose to engage with, romantic or otherwise, can play a major role in contributing to their experiences throughout their youth. These relationships can have big implications on our kids, whether that be positive or negative and as a result, are significant in shaping who they become.
Often as parents, we can spend a lot of time stewing over how to approach the challenging conversations around the physiological, biological aspects of sex and all it entails with our kids. Of course, discussions around these topics are essential and play a major role within relationship education. However, it’s important that we as parents spend as much time instilling in our kids an understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like from an emotional, relational perspective as well.
So where do we start in teaching our kids about healthy relationships?
Whilst we know there is an extensive list of important concepts and lessons that we believe are important to incorporate into the conversations we have with our kids around sexuality and relationships, here are just a few to help get you started!
Make your kids aware of the reality of Oxytocin
Oxytocin. Otherwise known as the love hormone, cuddle hormone or bonding hormone, plays a truly significant role within relationships. Particularly when it comes to the romantic relationships that our kids might develop, this powerful hormone is not to be underestimated.
Many parents of teens share just how familiar they are with seeing the way that oxytocin has affected their child. All of a sudden your child becomes distracted, daydreaming, on their phone messaging that special someone…Oxytocin has taken hold of your child!
What is this all about? Perhaps you’re aware to some degree of the role oxytocin plays when it comes to sexual activity. However, it’s important to keep in mind when having conversations with your teen about healthy relationships, that oxytocin is not only limited to sexual interactions but can be experienced in the early stages of a relationship, regardless of whether it is sexual in nature or not.
Why is oxytocin so powerful? Oxytocin most certainly contributes to a lot of the exciting and joyful emotions that are experienced in the early stages of a relationship. This incredible bonding hormone, whilst it can be such a special gift to us humans, can become a real hindrance for young people if they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship. We’ve all heard the saying “love is blind” and when it comes to the effects of oxytocin, this can be dangerously true.
It’s important for our young people to understand that oxytocin can act as a blinding and even inhabilitating force, often leaving them with an inability to see the certain unhealthy or even destructive behaviours within a particular relationship.
Help your kids to identify red flags within a relationship
It can be easy for us as parents to forget how big and powerful our emotions can be during adolescence. The relationships space particularly can magnify these emotions. These often overwhelming emotions and other significant, contributing factors like oxytocin can leave our kids with an inability to see things clearly within a relationship space, even if these things are obvious to us as parents.
We have the opportunity during conversations with our kids, before they even begin to engage in these kinds of relationships, to help open their eyes and make them aware of the red flags that can exist within an unhealthy and even toxic relationship.
Here is a list of just some of the red flags that can help in identifying an unhealthy relationship; uncontrolled anger, possessiveness, dishonesty, jealousy, unfaithfulness…
If we as parents can help our kids identify the red flags in an unhealthy relationship, we believe teens have greater confidence in calling out this behaviour not only in their own relationships but in the relationships they see unfold around them.
Practice exercising healthy relationship behaviours within the home
As parents, I’m sure most of us would agree that one of the greatest hopes we can have for our kids is that they themselves would learn what it means to be a respectful, kind and healthy person within a relationship. Whether this be in a romantic setting or otherwise, one of the best things we can do for our kids is not only have open, honest, real conversations with them about these kinds of topics, but to provide them with opportunities to exercise healthy relationship behaviours. We believe that this begins in the home.
So often when speaking in schools, teens voice their desire to be in a happy, healthy relationship one day. What can be difficult to understand as a young person is that developing the necessary skills to contribute to a healthy relationship takes time and practice.
Qualities like; learning to control one’s temper, self-control, honesty, healthy confrontation and empathy, are just a few of the invaluable factors that we all need to exercise in our relationships. However, they’re skills that don’t automatically switch on the moment we enter into a relationship.
These qualities take time to grow. One of the best things we can teach and demonstrate to our children is how to practice these kind of behaviours within the family structure; for example between siblings, parent and child, even close friendships. If they can understand what health looks like within these kinds of relationships, we are equipping them to one day experience truly extraordinary relationships.
It’s critical for us as parents to be positioned in our child’s life in a way that allows for conversations and support if our child finds themselves in a relationship that deserves caution and concern. If we as parents can be intentional and make ourselves available to have these important conversations with our kids, then we will be equipping them to engage in healthy relationship behaviours over the course of their lifetime.