With the excitement, thrills and expectations around Valentine's Day, it can be a perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their teen about building healthy, respectful relationships. As difficult as it can be start a conversation about the 'birds and the bees', Dr. Ashley Miller, a psychiatrist with BC Children's Hospital, recommends parents start these conversations sooner rather than later.
"It can be a tough topic to face with your teen, knowing what to say or when, but you can start with the basics of defining what a healthy relationship looks like," says Dr. Miller. "It's important to not just focus on sexual education but to also talk about the characteristics of healthy relationships such as mutual respect, trust, honesty and communication."
Opening the lines of communication can help teens feel more comfortable sharing their feelings, and a reminder that their parents are there to support them when they need it.
And if you're a teen who's dating or entering a relationship with someone, Dr. Miller reminds teens to trust their gut, and recognize what makes them feel good or bad.
"It's important to be aware of how you feel in your relationships – if it's adding stress to your life or if this person is not making you feel good about yourself, then it's important to not compromise yourself," says Dr. Miller. "Entering the dating world or thinking about potential dating partners should be enjoyable, and teens should not feel pressured to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable."
We're also reminding parents and caregivers that while Valentine's Day may be an opportune time to discuss relationships with your teen, it's important to keep these conversations going. If you need extra support with navigating healthy relationships or how to talk about it, there are resources available:
- Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre: a provincial resource centre that provides mental health and substance use information, resources, and peer support to children, youth and their families from across BC.
- Foundrybc.ca: a website that provides young people and families with a one-stop access point for mental health and well-being, substance use, social support and services, navigation assistance and self-management
- BC Children's Hospital Youth Health Toolkit: created by and for youth, the toolkit contains info, tips and resources to support the relationships and sexual health needs of youth
- www.youthinbc.com: online resource where youth who need assistance can get help by having a real-time online chat (every day noon – 1am) with a trained volunteer
- Kids Help Phone: toll-free, 24-hour phone counselling, web counselling and referral service for young people
- Start conversations at a young age
- Remind your teen that you're there to support them, and can be an ear when they need to talk
- Try talking about the 'birds and the bees' as well as the basics of healthy relationships i.e. trust, honesty, respect, etc.
- Talk about consent for boys and girls and use examples i.e. making someone drink something they don't want to, sharing a picture or a piece of clothing, etc.
- Accept teens' gender/sexuality (LGBTQ+); non-acceptance by family is proven to increase mental health challenges and suicide risk
- Recognize that a 'teen romance' can be just as strong as adult relationships (it matters to the teen, affects mood for better or worse, devastation of some break-ups, etc.)
- Try modelling healthy relationships for your teen i.e. using conflict resolution when working through an issue
- Notice how people in your life affect your mood; if a relationship is always bringing you down or causing a lot of stress, something needs to change
- Trust your gut – know what you like and don't like. If you aren't into someone or something, don't compromise yourself
- Remember relationships should be a two-way street – making or keeping someone happy is not a good reason to do something
- Talk to your friends and loved ones about how you feel
- It's important to keep other friendships while you're going out with someone