Valentine’s Day may be around the corner. But dating and interest in romance, intimacy, and sex are normal parts of being a teen all year long. Online dating is the new normal, especially for kids locked up by COVID.
While online dating has many benefits, it is not without risks. It’s never too late, but the best way to help your kids have healthy and safe relationships is to address dating online before it becomes an issue. Have conversations with your kids about what dating is like and how it is affected by social media (not to mention a pandemic). It’s likely as confusing for them as for you. The rules of dating are confusing enough IRL. Starting the conversations before they are needed can alleviate a lot of the emotion and potential embarrassment because it isn’t so personal yet.
1. Stay calm
Remain calm, positive, and nonjudgmental. Be prepared to explain how things look from your side but be sure to listen to your child as well.
2. Be curious but compassionate
Ask your kids where they hang out and meet friends or who they have met that seems special. Be respectfully curious about their experience.
3. Be a safe space
Be nonjudgmental to encourage open communication. Avoid teasing and focus on validating your child’s feelings. Even if you think they are being foolish, their feelings are very real to them.
If you can’t think of anything helpful to say, just listen. Remember that you are modeling relationship behavior every time you interact with your child, so practice what you preach. Be the safe place your child feels comfortable bringing their questions, confiding their experiences, and getting advice or support.
4. Remind kids to protect their identity
The allure of romance and desire for connection can make normal precautions about sharing personal information feel unnecessary or even undesirable.
5. Focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills
Help kids try to see a situation independent of their emotions. Help them visualize possible outcomes of different choices by playing “What would happen if….”
For example, discuss situations in which people try to take advantage of kids online, like asking a kid to switch on a webcam or asking for a sext. Then play “what would happen if…” by having them explore different ways to respond, how each approach might make them feel, and what they think could happen. You can ask what your child’s friends would suggest. The good thing about mediated communication is that the time lag provides time to think things over. This lays the foundation for navigating consent.
6. Have open and ongoing conversations about healthy relationships
Healthy relationships are important in all aspects of life, but they are particularly important when it comes to understanding consent and consensual behavior. It’s important that kids understand how and when to set boundaries. Abusive actions and relationships aren’t just about physical violence; stalking, coercion, and psychological abuse can happen online.
7. Share accurate information
Address some of the serious pitfalls like sexting. Talking about sexting does not increase the likelihood of sexual relationships. Parental shame can’t compete with peer pressure or coercion. Monitoring kids doesn’t stop sexting. Don’t try to scare them, just give your kids the facts.
- Nothing is ever completely secure or private. Sexts can be shared without your permission across almost every platform.
- There are legal ramifications of sexting. In some states, sexting is a felony offense and considered child pornography. In California, for example, sexting with teenagers is not only illegal, but the penalties include mandatory lifetime registration as a sex offender.
8. It’s all about healthy relationships
Focus on helping your kids develop healthy, caring relationships of mutual respect no matter where they occur. What’s online this week might be IRL next. Good skills, however, last a lifetime and are worth the effort.