Romantic relationships are a major developmental milestone. They come with all the other changes going on during adolescence – physical, social and emotional. And they’re linked to your child’s growing interest in body image and looks, independence and privacy. The idea that your child might have these kinds of feelings can sometimes be a bit confronting for you. But these feelings are leading your child towards a deeper capacity to care, share and develop intimate relationships.
When teenage relationships start
There isn’t a ‘right age’ to start having relationships – every child is different, and every family will feel differently about this issue. But here are some averages:
- From 9-11 years, your child might start to show more independence from your family and more interest in friends.
- From 10-14 years, your child might want to spend more time in mixed gender groups, which might eventually end up in a romantic relationship.
- From 15-19 years, romantic relationships can become central to social life. Friendships might become deeper and more stable.
Many teenagers spend a lot of time thinking and talking about being in a relationship. In these years, teenage relationships might last only a few weeks or months. It’s also normal for children to have no interest in romantic relationships until their late teens. Some choose to focus on schoolwork, sport or other interests.
Early teenage relationships
Younger teenagers usually hang out together in groups. If the person your child is interested in is older or younger, it could be worth mentioning that people of different ages might want different things from relationships.The most influential role models for teenagers are the grown-ups . Just talking about both men and women respectfully lets your child know you think everyone is equal and valuable.
Talking about teenage relationships with your child
Your family plays a big part in the way your child thinks about teenage relationships.
When you encourage conversations about feelings, friendships and family relationships, it can help your child feel confident to talk about teenage relationships in general. If your child knows what respectful relationships look like in general, she can relate this directly to romantic relationships.
These conversations might mean that your child will feel more comfortable sharing his feelings with you as he starts to get romantically interested in others. And the conversations can also bring up other important topics, like treating other people kindly, breaking up kindly and respecting other people’s boundaries.
Having conversations with your child about sex and relationships from a young age might mean your child feels more comfortable to ask you questions as she moves into adolescence.
In some ways, talking about romantic and/or sexual teenage relationships is like talking about friendships or going to a party. Depending on your values and family rules, you and your child might need to discuss behaviour and ground rules, and consequences for breaking the rules. For example, you might talk about how much time your child spends with his girlfriend or boyfriend versus how much time he spends studying, or whether it’s OK for his girlfriend or boyfriend to stay over.
You might also want to agree on some strategies for what your child should do if she feels unsafe or threatened.
Young people might also talk to their friends, which is healthy and normal. They still need your back-up, though, so keeping the lines of communication open is important.
Sex and teenage relationships
If your child is in a relationship, it can bring up questions about sex and intimacy.
Not all teenage relationships include sex, but most teenagers will experiment with sexual behaviour at some stage. This is why your child need information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
This could also be your chance to talk together about dealing with unwanted sexual and peer pressure. If you keep the lines of communication open and let your child know that you’re there to listen, he’ll be more likely to come to you with questions and concerns.
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