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Who’s influencing your child’s relationships – you or others?

February 13, 2020     By Father Steven E. Boes, President and National Executive Director, Boys Town

Communicating with Children, Communicating with Kids, Parent-Child Relationships, Teen, Teens, Tween, Tweens, Understanding Behavior, Village of Boys Town

After days of gray skies and bitter cold, I sought comfort at my neighborhood multiplex.

On a late Sunday afternoon, the theater was crowded with young people – teens and preteens. Watching them interact with one another proved to be as engrossing and enlightening as any movie.

Two young girls standing behind me in the concession line had a lengthy debate about which actor – Jason Momoa, aka “Aquaman,” or Leonardo DiCaprio – is, in their words, “the bigger hottie.” After agreeing on Jason, they griped that no guys at school had his matinee-idol looks.

As those two talked boys, a few steps away stood a teenage couple. Their arms were loosely locked around each other’s waist while their lips were locked tightly together above. They were oblivious (or indifferent) to the stares and snickers their public affection attracted. Was this typical date behavior for the couple? What would their parents think? I could only wonder.

When it comes to your children’s relationships, what behaviors do they emulate?

Messages from pop culture icons and social media “influencers” certainly hold sway over some teens, and the disappointing results are reflected in their dating behaviors – dressing provocatively; spending lavishly; giving inappropriate gifts (intimate apparel for Valentine’s!); or even sharing X-rated selfies.

At Boys Town, many of the kids in our care come to us with a skewed view of what a healthy relationship should be. No one taught them how to protect themselves, either physically or emotionally, from people who might want to manipulate and use them. That’s why having honest and frequent conversations about healthy friendships and appropriate boundaries are so valuable.

There’s no perfect script to follow when having these conversations, but a nice place to begin is with a simple, universal truth – making good choices matter.

Regardless of age, maturity level or relationship status, if your children know how to make good choices, they can have healthier friendships and happier dating experiences. For example, are your children aware the attributes that make someone a good friend (respect, cooperation, honesty, dependability, caring, etc.) are the same qualities that make someone a good date?

Of course, having true friendships and enjoyable dating experiences does involve some trial and error. But it’s hard to go completely off the rails if you start with a solid foundation…

  • Find someone who is easy to talk with.
  • Find someone who likes some of the same things you do.
  • Find someone you’re comfortable being around.
  • Find someone who is polite and genuinely kind.
  • Find someone who respects your personal boundaries.

You also can help set up your kids for success by discussing situations they may find themselves in and how they can respond when a friend or dating partner makes them uneasy or uncomfortable. Be mindful that your kids see your relationships, too. So, please act the part!

Be a positive role model by demonstrating trust, respect, cooperation, understanding and forgiveness. Most importantly, let your children know you love them and are always there to listen and answer their questions.

It’s never too early or too late to talk about personal boundaries, intimacy and relationships. The more you communicate, the more you will be the one who shapes their choices and influences their behaviors – saving everyone from endings that are needlessly disappointing and disastrous!

PS… The Boys Town Press has great books to help parents and young people navigate friendships and dating relationships, including Dating! 10 Helpful Hints for a Successful Relationship and Friend Me! 10 Awesome Steps to Fun and Friendship. Find them at www.BoysTownPress.org.

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