|Tips for Parents on Teaching Respect & Healthy Dating
Below are the seven most common questions parents ask me when I
am speaking in their schools or with their community
Without sounding like you are lecturing and without
endorsing sexual activity, how do you approach the issue of
healthy dating and intimacy with your child?
Kids are constantly told by their parents how "times were
different" and "we were more respectful." The truth is that our
culture has had a very unhealthy and confusing approach to
dating, intimacy, and sexuality for a very long time -- today is
no different. Once parents admit the feelings of confusion they
had as a young person and discuss their 'scary' or 'troubling'
moments, the teenagers are more likely to connect with their
parents. Sharing difficult and scary moments also helps your
kids see the dangers and consequences of making bad decisions ~
in a realistic and thought-provoking manner.
Instead of telling your child, "How times were different when
you were young," find a commonality between the two of you. When
you tell someone how different it was back when you were young,
why should your child think you can understand what they are
going through? Connect with your son or daughter by opening the
conversation with a question that shows you do understand their
worries, concerns, and thoughts.
For example, a parent saying, "I remember getting all nervous
before a date because I was wondering lots of stuff like, 'Will
my date like me?', 'Will my date find me attractive,' 'I wonder
what my date is really like.' Do you ever get nervous like
that?" This type of question can make a parent more approachable
to their child. No matter what your age is or of the "times" you
grew up in, these difficult feelings cross all generations. The
key to success is asking in a sincere and caring tone. What
are the correct dating behaviors and practices to teach?
Self-respect, respect for your partner and high standards need
to be taught to males and females at all times. When a person
believes in his or her self, the person is more likely to make
the "right" decisions in difficult moments. Students with low
self-esteem are more likely to lower their standards to please
their partner -- a very dangerous and unhealthy practice.
We need to teach young people to "expect to be respected" and to
not tolerate any forms of disrespect (a date should ask before
trying to do "something with you"). We need to teach how
speaking out for yourself is both strong and sexy (many fear
speaking out will be unattractive to their dates). We need to
teach them to better understand what "respecting" a date means.
Respect is not simply opening doors, paying for meals, or other
signs of chivalry. Respect is holding your date in the highest
esteem and always getting your date's permission before trying
to do "something."
One of the most common mistakes parents make is assuming that
the males are always the sexual aggressors. More and more, we
are hearing about females becoming the more sexually assertive
person in the relationship. Try to avoid all assumptions of
gender roles. At what age do my kids begin learning about
By observing their parents, children learn intimacy at an
extremely young age. If a young man sees his father ask his
mother for a kiss, he is more likely to believe that asking is
how he should act. If a young woman hears her mother talk about
how respectful and loving her father is, the young woman is more
likely to want a more respectful and loving partner.
Parents should begin discussing appropriate touching at early
ages and then advance into issues of intimacy as those years
approach. Due to the images and discussions television and the
entertainment industry promote to younger audiences, parents
need to have these conversations at much younger ages (for many,
prior to the age of 10 is appropriate -- kids are seeing or
hearing about much more explicit behavior by this age). Even if
you do not let your children watch such programs, they are
likely to hear about these shows from their peers.
There is no one magical age for these conversations to take
place. Each set of parents must decide what is right for his or
her child. However, the day your child is born is the day your
child begins watching you. Make a conscious effort to display
respect in all aspects of intimacy and sexuality by asking
before kissing people. When your kids watch you, what will they
learn? What do I teach my kids about the "Age Laws"?
Parents must teach their child about age laws. Each state has
very specific laws regarding minors involved with sexual
activity. Two 15-year-olds could each say, "yes" to engage in
certain sexual activity with one another and they would still be
breaking the law in many states. In addition, parents need to
help young people understand that these laws exist to help
Learn the laws in your state so that you can address the legal
aspect - just don't make the legal element your focus. Kids
typically find such conversations to be boring and most kids
don't fear the authorities catching them engaged in sexual acts.
How can parents help their kids avoid peer pressure?
Immediately begin treating your child with respect and with
great value. By teaching a child how "special" he or she is you
can help him or her understand why getting involved with
intimacy should be saved for an extremely "special" moment.
Research proves that the earlier a child gets involved in
intimacy is directly related how much "value" the child places
in his or her own self. For this reason, we need to connect with
our children in an engaging and "open" approach.
Children fear being lectured and being judged. Children love to
be "heard." Ask questions, listen with an open mind, and then
have positive discussions. When your child feels a special
connection with you and understands why you have such strong
beliefs, he or she is more likely to believe YOU over his or her
friends. Plus, when a child understands the "why" to not getting
involved with certain behavior, he or she will have a real
reason for saying "no" to peer pressure (instead of simply
saying "because my parents said so"). The child will WANT to say
"no" because he or she will believe that "no" is the right
answer! My son is very respectful -- why would I need to
worry about him being involved in a sexual assault?
Most "respectful" males still learn about aspects of intimacy
through their friends and what they see portrayed on television
and in the movies. These sources of education promote
disrespectful behavior by teaching males that if they are
"smooth," they can just make their moves and their partner will
When males just "make their moves," they take a tremendous risk
of engaging in behavior that their partners do not want - thus
leading to committing a sexual assault. Parents need to talk
with their sons about truly respecting a partner by
understanding how valuable and special each person is as a human
being (including the body, the mind, sexuality, personality, and
values). Sons need to learn that the only way you can be sure
what your date wants is to "ask" your date first.
Plus, many males are survivors of sexual assault. You never want
to assume only a female can be sexually assaulted. Talk to your
son about "If anyone ever has or ever does touch you against
your will or without your consent, I will always be here for
you." Sons need to know they can be sexually assaulted and that
you will be there for them as a strong source of support. My
daughter is tough and outspoken -- I don't have anything to
WRONG! Many tough and outspoken females have been sexually
assaulted or have become unexpectedly pregnant. A "tough" and
"outspoken" female might think she is invincible and that belief
can be extremely dangerous (she may believe "she would never get
pregnant" or that "no man could ever sexually assault me"). By
being over-confident, she may be less likely to see potential
signs of trouble. Another female may be very confident in most
aspects of her life, but not with intimacy or relationships.
Parents need to teach their daughters "awareness" to better
equip their daughters for noticing signs of trouble. At the same
time, we must understand that there is no 100% form of sexual
assault prevention that a victim or survivor can utilize (100%
prevention can only result by the assailant not attempting the
behavior). A young woman or man could follow every healthy
dating advice ever given and still be sexually assaulted. Stress
to your daughter that she cannot ever be at fault for someone
sexually assaulting her - this point must be stressed. Many,
many females never tell their parents about their assault
because the daughter fears how their parents will react. Help
your daughter know that you will be there to support her and
love her at all times! Tell her, "If anyone ever has or ever
does touch you against your will or without your consent, I will
always be here for you."
At the same time, talk to your daughter about respecting her
partner's boundaries and standards. As mentioned previously,
females are the aggressors in some relationships. A sexually
assertive female needs to understand the importance of seeking
her partner's consent. Do I really need to have these
Not talking about complex issues simply leads to confusion. When
kids talk to their friends, every component is often exaggerated
and glamorized (every romantic encounter is amazing and romantic
in their "dream world"). Thus, building the young person's drive
to experiment with sex, drugs, and other dangerous behaviors.
Help the child learn the truth by speaking honestly about your
memories in a manner that they can relate to. If you can be a
little humorous, you can help break the barriers down for your
teenager to start talking openly to you."
About the author:
Mike Domitrz is an expert in dating and communicating on sex and
other intimate issues. He is founder of The Date Safe Project
(www.TheDateSafeProject.org), a nationally-recognized speaker,
and author of the book, "May I Kiss You? A Candid Look at
Dating, Communication, Respect & Sexual Assault Awareness"
(www.CanIKissYou.com). Contact him at
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