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How to Talk to Your Teen About Their Love Life

It makes sense that parents would be conflicted about teen romance. On one hand, we want the best for our kiddos. Loving, intimate partnerships bring life-changing joy and connection.  And, yet…aren’t they a little young? Maybe this could wait until they’re older…when things calm down…when we’ve caught up on laundry, and they’ve…finished college?  

It isn’t just the worry that our children might be growing up too fast. We also know that dating can bring rejection, heartbreak, and worse. In terms of helping children take risks to learn essential life skills, dating might be ahead of driving on the Parental Fear-O-Meter. The good news is that, just like with driving, we can equip our kids with skills and tools to help keep them safe–even when we can’t be with them.  

Here are five quick tips to consider as you think about how and when to teach your child about sex and dating:

1. Decide to start a conversation

It’s tempting to wait..until they ask to start dating . . . or someone in their class gets pregnant . . . or for some other trigger. By initiating the conversation we get to choose the setting (when there is time and privacy) and think about what we want to communicate.

For a first talk, it’s enough to introduce a topic (dating/sexual behavior/teen pregnancy, etc.) and ask your child what they know, think, or feel about it. The goal is to help your kiddo (and yourself) to get comfortable talking and sharing feelings and questions, not to exhaustively cover an entire subject.

And because you’re not waiting until there is an “issue” to resolve, these early talks can be casual and low-key. Family events, school happenings, TV shows, or movies can all serve as prompts for conversations about love and relationships.

2. Reflect on past lessons

Children are constantly observing and learning from their environment. By the time we have any sort of “sex talk” with our kids, they’ve already learned a ton about love and intimacy - from us and our interactions.

If we're asking our adolescent children to behave differently than what they've observed growing up, it helps to openly address how and why they could do that. We want our kids to learn from our mistakes and have it better than we did, and it’s not reasonable to expect them to reach a better place if they follow the exact map that we used.

It’s ok to talk about your own mistakes and what you've learned from them. It’s also possible to talk about unhealthy behaviors or dynamics without blaming other people in your child’s life (e.g. “Your mom and I didn't do a good job communicating when we got angry or hurt.” or “It took me a while to learn that asking for things I needed to be happy in my first marriage wasn't being selfish.”).

3. Share and center your values

Loads of research tells us that parents are very influential (maybe even more than peers) in shaping children’s values around relationships and sexual behavior. Parents are most influential when adolescents feel that they have a close, connected relationship with their parent.

By sharing our values, hopes, and fears with our children, we give them a framework for understanding family rules and boundaries.

Because adolescents need to explore and refine their own values on the path to adulthood, create space for your children to share their thoughts and ask questions about how you arrived at your family values.

4. Remember that all emotions are real

Leann Rimes was 14 years old when she recorded “How Do I Live (Without You).” In the 25 years since that Billboard Hit, we’ve all learned a lot about love. But the feelings that accompany love, loneliness, and desire don't really change over time.  

If anything, adolescent feelings might actually be more intense because they are newer and less well-regulated.  

It might be tempting to downplay the emotions that our teens share as just “puppy love” or “adolescent drama,” but they are every bit as real and important as Leann’s (and our own) junior high heartbreak. By validating our adolescent’s emotions and working with them to make meaning of their feelings and experiences, we can help them act in healthy ways that are consistent with their (and our) values.

5. Give yourself a break

Many parents are worried that they don’t know enough to teach their kids about sex, or that they don’t have the “right” teenage experience (maybe because they are a different gender than their child, or grew up in a different place and time).

Good parenting doesn't require that we be subject matter experts in all things related to our kiddos. Instead, it’s our job to love them and prioritize their growth and well-being within our family and as they become adults.

If you provide the love, connection, and values- it’s fine to outsource the content knowledge. Here’s a great list of sexuality education resources compiled by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine refresh facts and fill in the gaps.

And, it’s not only ok, but incredibly AWESOME, to allow your children to be the experts in their own lives. Let them teach you about Teen Life: The 2022 Edition.

---

It’s natural to be a bit nervous talking about sex and relationships with your children. So, shift the focus from a single, high-stakes event (the “Sex Talk”) to a series of ongoing conversations and check-ins where you ask questions, listen, and discuss (experiences, behavior, and values).

This isn’t one make-or-break conversation, it’s a continuation and expansion of the lessons you’ve been teaching about love and connection ever since this small human first entered your life. This journey takes authenticity, connection, and courage. All of which is good practice, because before you know it, it’s going to be time to start Driver’s Ed.  

How to Talk to Your Teen About Their Love Life

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How to Talk to Your Teen About Their Love Life

Our Yes Collective resident expert on sexual health, Jena Curtis, EdD, gives us five powerful tips for having meaningful conversations about love with your teen.

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It makes sense that parents would be conflicted about teen romance. On one hand, we want the best for our kiddos. Loving, intimate partnerships bring life-changing joy and connection.  And, yet…aren’t they a little young? Maybe this could wait until they’re older…when things calm down…when we’ve caught up on laundry, and they’ve…finished college?  

It isn’t just the worry that our children might be growing up too fast. We also know that dating can bring rejection, heartbreak, and worse. In terms of helping children take risks to learn essential life skills, dating might be ahead of driving on the Parental Fear-O-Meter. The good news is that, just like with driving, we can equip our kids with skills and tools to help keep them safe–even when we can’t be with them.  

Here are five quick tips to consider as you think about how and when to teach your child about sex and dating:

1. Decide to start a conversation

It’s tempting to wait..until they ask to start dating . . . or someone in their class gets pregnant . . . or for some other trigger. By initiating the conversation we get to choose the setting (when there is time and privacy) and think about what we want to communicate.

For a first talk, it’s enough to introduce a topic (dating/sexual behavior/teen pregnancy, etc.) and ask your child what they know, think, or feel about it. The goal is to help your kiddo (and yourself) to get comfortable talking and sharing feelings and questions, not to exhaustively cover an entire subject.

And because you’re not waiting until there is an “issue” to resolve, these early talks can be casual and low-key. Family events, school happenings, TV shows, or movies can all serve as prompts for conversations about love and relationships.

2. Reflect on past lessons

Children are constantly observing and learning from their environment. By the time we have any sort of “sex talk” with our kids, they’ve already learned a ton about love and intimacy - from us and our interactions.

If we're asking our adolescent children to behave differently than what they've observed growing up, it helps to openly address how and why they could do that. We want our kids to learn from our mistakes and have it better than we did, and it’s not reasonable to expect them to reach a better place if they follow the exact map that we used.

It’s ok to talk about your own mistakes and what you've learned from them. It’s also possible to talk about unhealthy behaviors or dynamics without blaming other people in your child’s life (e.g. “Your mom and I didn't do a good job communicating when we got angry or hurt.” or “It took me a while to learn that asking for things I needed to be happy in my first marriage wasn't being selfish.”).

3. Share and center your values

Loads of research tells us that parents are very influential (maybe even more than peers) in shaping children’s values around relationships and sexual behavior. Parents are most influential when adolescents feel that they have a close, connected relationship with their parent.

By sharing our values, hopes, and fears with our children, we give them a framework for understanding family rules and boundaries.

Because adolescents need to explore and refine their own values on the path to adulthood, create space for your children to share their thoughts and ask questions about how you arrived at your family values.

4. Remember that all emotions are real

Leann Rimes was 14 years old when she recorded “How Do I Live (Without You).” In the 25 years since that Billboard Hit, we’ve all learned a lot about love. But the feelings that accompany love, loneliness, and desire don't really change over time.  

If anything, adolescent feelings might actually be more intense because they are newer and less well-regulated.  

It might be tempting to downplay the emotions that our teens share as just “puppy love” or “adolescent drama,” but they are every bit as real and important as Leann’s (and our own) junior high heartbreak. By validating our adolescent’s emotions and working with them to make meaning of their feelings and experiences, we can help them act in healthy ways that are consistent with their (and our) values.

5. Give yourself a break

Many parents are worried that they don’t know enough to teach their kids about sex, or that they don’t have the “right” teenage experience (maybe because they are a different gender than their child, or grew up in a different place and time).

Good parenting doesn't require that we be subject matter experts in all things related to our kiddos. Instead, it’s our job to love them and prioritize their growth and well-being within our family and as they become adults.

If you provide the love, connection, and values- it’s fine to outsource the content knowledge. Here’s a great list of sexuality education resources compiled by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine refresh facts and fill in the gaps.

And, it’s not only ok, but incredibly AWESOME, to allow your children to be the experts in their own lives. Let them teach you about Teen Life: The 2022 Edition.

---

It’s natural to be a bit nervous talking about sex and relationships with your children. So, shift the focus from a single, high-stakes event (the “Sex Talk”) to a series of ongoing conversations and check-ins where you ask questions, listen, and discuss (experiences, behavior, and values).

This isn’t one make-or-break conversation, it’s a continuation and expansion of the lessons you’ve been teaching about love and connection ever since this small human first entered your life. This journey takes authenticity, connection, and courage. All of which is good practice, because before you know it, it’s going to be time to start Driver’s Ed.  

It makes sense that parents would be conflicted about teen romance. On one hand, we want the best for our kiddos. Loving, intimate partnerships bring life-changing joy and connection.  And, yet…aren’t they a little young? Maybe this could wait until they’re older…when things calm down…when we’ve caught up on laundry, and they’ve…finished college?  

It isn’t just the worry that our children might be growing up too fast. We also know that dating can bring rejection, heartbreak, and worse. In terms of helping children take risks to learn essential life skills, dating might be ahead of driving on the Parental Fear-O-Meter. The good news is that, just like with driving, we can equip our kids with skills and tools to help keep them safe–even when we can’t be with them.  

Here are five quick tips to consider as you think about how and when to teach your child about sex and dating:

1. Decide to start a conversation

It’s tempting to wait..until they ask to start dating . . . or someone in their class gets pregnant . . . or for some other trigger. By initiating the conversation we get to choose the setting (when there is time and privacy) and think about what we want to communicate.

For a first talk, it’s enough to introduce a topic (dating/sexual behavior/teen pregnancy, etc.) and ask your child what they know, think, or feel about it. The goal is to help your kiddo (and yourself) to get comfortable talking and sharing feelings and questions, not to exhaustively cover an entire subject.

And because you’re not waiting until there is an “issue” to resolve, these early talks can be casual and low-key. Family events, school happenings, TV shows, or movies can all serve as prompts for conversations about love and relationships.

2. Reflect on past lessons

Children are constantly observing and learning from their environment. By the time we have any sort of “sex talk” with our kids, they’ve already learned a ton about love and intimacy - from us and our interactions.

If we're asking our adolescent children to behave differently than what they've observed growing up, it helps to openly address how and why they could do that. We want our kids to learn from our mistakes and have it better than we did, and it’s not reasonable to expect them to reach a better place if they follow the exact map that we used.

It’s ok to talk about your own mistakes and what you've learned from them. It’s also possible to talk about unhealthy behaviors or dynamics without blaming other people in your child’s life (e.g. “Your mom and I didn't do a good job communicating when we got angry or hurt.” or “It took me a while to learn that asking for things I needed to be happy in my first marriage wasn't being selfish.”).

3. Share and center your values

Loads of research tells us that parents are very influential (maybe even more than peers) in shaping children’s values around relationships and sexual behavior. Parents are most influential when adolescents feel that they have a close, connected relationship with their parent.

By sharing our values, hopes, and fears with our children, we give them a framework for understanding family rules and boundaries.

Because adolescents need to explore and refine their own values on the path to adulthood, create space for your children to share their thoughts and ask questions about how you arrived at your family values.

4. Remember that all emotions are real

Leann Rimes was 14 years old when she recorded “How Do I Live (Without You).” In the 25 years since that Billboard Hit, we’ve all learned a lot about love. But the feelings that accompany love, loneliness, and desire don't really change over time.  

If anything, adolescent feelings might actually be more intense because they are newer and less well-regulated.  

It might be tempting to downplay the emotions that our teens share as just “puppy love” or “adolescent drama,” but they are every bit as real and important as Leann’s (and our own) junior high heartbreak. By validating our adolescent’s emotions and working with them to make meaning of their feelings and experiences, we can help them act in healthy ways that are consistent with their (and our) values.

5. Give yourself a break

Many parents are worried that they don’t know enough to teach their kids about sex, or that they don’t have the “right” teenage experience (maybe because they are a different gender than their child, or grew up in a different place and time).

Good parenting doesn't require that we be subject matter experts in all things related to our kiddos. Instead, it’s our job to love them and prioritize their growth and well-being within our family and as they become adults.

If you provide the love, connection, and values- it’s fine to outsource the content knowledge. Here’s a great list of sexuality education resources compiled by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine refresh facts and fill in the gaps.

And, it’s not only ok, but incredibly AWESOME, to allow your children to be the experts in their own lives. Let them teach you about Teen Life: The 2022 Edition.

---

It’s natural to be a bit nervous talking about sex and relationships with your children. So, shift the focus from a single, high-stakes event (the “Sex Talk”) to a series of ongoing conversations and check-ins where you ask questions, listen, and discuss (experiences, behavior, and values).

This isn’t one make-or-break conversation, it’s a continuation and expansion of the lessons you’ve been teaching about love and connection ever since this small human first entered your life. This journey takes authenticity, connection, and courage. All of which is good practice, because before you know it, it’s going to be time to start Driver’s Ed.  

It makes sense that parents would be conflicted about teen romance. On one hand, we want the best for our kiddos. Loving, intimate partnerships bring life-changing joy and connection.  And, yet…aren’t they a little young? Maybe this could wait until they’re older…when things calm down…when we’ve caught up on laundry, and they’ve…finished college?  

It isn’t just the worry that our children might be growing up too fast. We also know that dating can bring rejection, heartbreak, and worse. In terms of helping children take risks to learn essential life skills, dating might be ahead of driving on the Parental Fear-O-Meter. The good news is that, just like with driving, we can equip our kids with skills and tools to help keep them safe–even when we can’t be with them.  

Here are five quick tips to consider as you think about how and when to teach your child about sex and dating:

1. Decide to start a conversation

It’s tempting to wait..until they ask to start dating . . . or someone in their class gets pregnant . . . or for some other trigger. By initiating the conversation we get to choose the setting (when there is time and privacy) and think about what we want to communicate.

For a first talk, it’s enough to introduce a topic (dating/sexual behavior/teen pregnancy, etc.) and ask your child what they know, think, or feel about it. The goal is to help your kiddo (and yourself) to get comfortable talking and sharing feelings and questions, not to exhaustively cover an entire subject.

And because you’re not waiting until there is an “issue” to resolve, these early talks can be casual and low-key. Family events, school happenings, TV shows, or movies can all serve as prompts for conversations about love and relationships.

2. Reflect on past lessons

Children are constantly observing and learning from their environment. By the time we have any sort of “sex talk” with our kids, they’ve already learned a ton about love and intimacy - from us and our interactions.

If we're asking our adolescent children to behave differently than what they've observed growing up, it helps to openly address how and why they could do that. We want our kids to learn from our mistakes and have it better than we did, and it’s not reasonable to expect them to reach a better place if they follow the exact map that we used.

It’s ok to talk about your own mistakes and what you've learned from them. It’s also possible to talk about unhealthy behaviors or dynamics without blaming other people in your child’s life (e.g. “Your mom and I didn't do a good job communicating when we got angry or hurt.” or “It took me a while to learn that asking for things I needed to be happy in my first marriage wasn't being selfish.”).

3. Share and center your values

Loads of research tells us that parents are very influential (maybe even more than peers) in shaping children’s values around relationships and sexual behavior. Parents are most influential when adolescents feel that they have a close, connected relationship with their parent.

By sharing our values, hopes, and fears with our children, we give them a framework for understanding family rules and boundaries.

Because adolescents need to explore and refine their own values on the path to adulthood, create space for your children to share their thoughts and ask questions about how you arrived at your family values.

4. Remember that all emotions are real

Leann Rimes was 14 years old when she recorded “How Do I Live (Without You).” In the 25 years since that Billboard Hit, we’ve all learned a lot about love. But the feelings that accompany love, loneliness, and desire don't really change over time.  

If anything, adolescent feelings might actually be more intense because they are newer and less well-regulated.  

It might be tempting to downplay the emotions that our teens share as just “puppy love” or “adolescent drama,” but they are every bit as real and important as Leann’s (and our own) junior high heartbreak. By validating our adolescent’s emotions and working with them to make meaning of their feelings and experiences, we can help them act in healthy ways that are consistent with their (and our) values.

5. Give yourself a break

Many parents are worried that they don’t know enough to teach their kids about sex, or that they don’t have the “right” teenage experience (maybe because they are a different gender than their child, or grew up in a different place and time).

Good parenting doesn't require that we be subject matter experts in all things related to our kiddos. Instead, it’s our job to love them and prioritize their growth and well-being within our family and as they become adults.

If you provide the love, connection, and values- it’s fine to outsource the content knowledge. Here’s a great list of sexuality education resources compiled by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine refresh facts and fill in the gaps.

And, it’s not only ok, but incredibly AWESOME, to allow your children to be the experts in their own lives. Let them teach you about Teen Life: The 2022 Edition.

---

It’s natural to be a bit nervous talking about sex and relationships with your children. So, shift the focus from a single, high-stakes event (the “Sex Talk”) to a series of ongoing conversations and check-ins where you ask questions, listen, and discuss (experiences, behavior, and values).

This isn’t one make-or-break conversation, it’s a continuation and expansion of the lessons you’ve been teaching about love and connection ever since this small human first entered your life. This journey takes authenticity, connection, and courage. All of which is good practice, because before you know it, it’s going to be time to start Driver’s Ed.  

Enjoying this article? Subscribe to the Yes Collective for more expert emotional wellness just for parents.

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