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The Three Fights Every Parent Has With Their Kid and How to Stop Them

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

 By Vanessa Van Petten, creator of RadicalParenting.com and author of the parenting book, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?” (http://www.radicalparenting.com/books-and-products/book-youre-grounded/)

 When I was 16 I thought it was my Dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced that he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores or make my curfew earlier. In fact we had three of the most common parent-kid fights:

 1. The “It’s Not Fair” Fight


            -Older brother gets to stay out late with his friends. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

-Parent gets to have soda, child does not. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

-Teenager cannot buy new outfit for dance because it is too expensive. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

 2. The “Treat Me Like A Grown-Up” Fight


-Teen wants to be able to stay out late with friends. Parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.

-Teen wants to go away for Spring Break, parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.

3. The “We Are a Different Person” Fight


            -Parent wants their teen to join band, teen doesn’t want to.

            -Parent expects higher grades and when teen doesn’t do well, a huge fight ensues.

            -Teen does not keep room tidy, parent gets upset when guests come over.

We would have these kinds of fights over and over again until one day I saw my Dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while my Dad was in the bathroom and realized a lot of the things he did that drove me crazy he was getting right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized that they were all written by adults. I wondered—has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?

I decided to build a website where teens could answer questions and write to parents called RadicalParenting.com.  I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy both teens were to get their voices out and parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids! We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice. Here is what they had to say about solving each of the common parent fights:

 1. The “It’s Not Fair” Fight

 Emotional Intent: When you hear a teen talk about how unfair something is, what they are often feeling is, “I am not important or special enough.” If you feel like your teenager is constantly arguing about justice or fairness, they are most likely feeling like they are not being heard or cared about enough to get what they want. Of course, this is usually not the case. In the examples above parents would be worried about safety, health and money, while teens feel like they are not as important as their sibling, that their parents do not understand how important the dance is, and so on.

 Solutions: The best way to stop the “it’s Not Fair” fight is to address the emotional intent. The best way to do this is for parents to push into the “it’s not fair” feeling from their children instead of pushing against it. For instance in the new outfit example a parent might say to their teen, “I hear you think this is unfair, will you tell me why?” A teen will most likely respond, “You buy stuff for yourself all the time,” or “But I deserve this dress.” These answers are important because it will show the parent the emotional intent behind the upset and feelings of injustice. If a parent addresses these by saying something like, “I could see how you feel like us not buying this for you is about you not feeling worthy. But the truth is we are trying to save for the big vacation we are taking this summer—which is for all of us. I know how important this dance is for you. Maybe we can get you a new pair of shoes or…” then the fight is stopped.

2. The “Treat Me Like A Grown-Up” Fight

 Emotional Intent: Most fights during the teen years are actually based in this ‘treat me like a grown-up’ motivation. The earlier you can catch and address it the better it will be. It derives from the fundamental pulling away that comes with a teen trying to assert their independence.

 Solutions: It is very important for parents to discuss reasons for decisions that are making a teenager angry. This way teens are sure to understand the real reasons for a parent’s choice. Another great way to help teenagers get less upset in fights surrounding their maturity is for parents to help teens feel mature in other ways. For example, perhaps parents do not want their teen to go away for the whole Spring Break because they want to have family time. A great way to address this with teens is to say clearly, “We really want to have family time with you, but we know you are getting older, so how about you do a weekend camping trip with your friends for one of the weekends.” This teaches teens you trust them, but it is all about balancing needs.

 3. The “We Are a Different Person” Fight

 Emotional Intent: Often times teenagers tell me that they will purposefully keep their room dirty or choose unapproved hobbies just so they can be different from their parents. Parents frequently misinterpret room cleaning or bad grades for laziness, when something deeper might be going on. Teenagers often will ‘misbehave’ or fight with parents simply to show them that they are their own person—even if it gets them into trouble.

Solutions: First, it’s important to make sure that you do want your child to be their own person. Be careful not to push expectations or your own goals onto your kids. Second, make sure teenagers know that some of the requirements you have for them (good grades a tidy room for guests) are not to make them feel less like an individual, but for them to have more choices in their future and to present a nice home to guests. I recommend parents being very direct with teenagers about their need to be ‘their own person’ you might be surprised what common fights are actually based in this emotional intent.

I think teens and parents can work together to overcome their differences and learn to work best together. We have just come out with our book: Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded and it is a radical approach to parenting because it is written from the kid’s perspective! We would love for you to check it out—if you are brave enough to see what kids have to say!

 Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation’s youngest experts, or ‘youthologists’ on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting website, RadicalParenting.com, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her approach has been featured by CNN, Fox News, and Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the housewives with troubled teens. Her next book, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?” is being released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.


How to talk to your daughter about love

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Valentine’s Day—what better time to talk to your teen about the crazy little thing called love?

Where to start? A good place is helping her set her bar—her standard for what she believes love is. How do we do that? By having open, two-way conversations. By giving information, like what we believe love is. And by asking questions, like “What do you believe love is?”

But remember, if you tell her “This is what I believe” without asking “What do you believe?” you’re really telling her, “I want you to believe what I believe.”

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why did I first have sex?” Personally, I thought I was in love. I also believed that if a guy said “I love you,” or wanted to have sex, he loved me. I know it sounds crazy now.  “No, it doesn’t sound crazy,” says Dr. Julius Licata, Director of TeenCentral.Net (which offers teens anonymous, on-line, free information and counseling). “It’s what many teens think.

“Teens don’t say, Love is this, love is that,” says Dr. Julius. “They believe they know love because they feel special around that person; when a person kisses them, holds them, says, ‘You’re my everything,’ that’s love. Or, if a guy says ‘Let’s hook up’—for many young girls, that’s love.”

If you asked your teen, “What do you think love is?” would she use fulfillment of her own wants and needs as one definition?  Would she say something like, “When you’re familiar with a guy (his traits, likes, dislikes), and you can accept him (for who he is, and the decisions he makes), and he’s important (you include his feelings, wants, needs, beliefs in your choices), and you value him (share what you feel, think, believe)…”

“That’s not typically what you’re going to hear from teens,” says Dr. Julius. “More often you’ll get, ‘Why are you asking?’”

The importance of dialogue

“You have to hear what your teen believes before you can offer your insight,” says Dr. Julius. “Giving your teen a chance to verbalize her beliefs is how you see where you differ, and how she comes to understand what she believes.  Her influences come from the people she communicates with, shares with. This is how she builds her beliefs. If you give orders—“You have to believe what I believe”—you’ll not be one of the people she shares with. Be open to her understanding of what love is. Don’t say ‘You don’t know what love is’. She knows what it is for her.”

“The key is to talk to her every day,” says Dr. Julius, “even if you’re busy. Even if it’s for five minutes. In time she’ll trust you and stop thinking you’re prying or trying to get information to upgrade your rule list.”

Concepts like love are difficult to verbalize. But talking about needs—the fulfillment of needs in a relationship—can help. Typically teens expect only a few needs to be met—like to notice him, desire him, to be interested in every little thing about him, to please him.

Try setting your teen’s bar with information about “getting to know” a person by using her wants and needs—for example, to become familiar with him, listen to him, understand him, value him, be interested in him, and for him to become important to her—as reasons for loving a guy.

Set your teen’s bar to love

Say your daughter meets a guy, believes she loves him and he loves her. Ask her: “Is love a good reason to have sex with a guy?” Then let her talk.

“Many teens will say yes,” says Dr. Julius, “If your teen says yes, there’s really not much you can say to convince her otherwise. But asking ‘What do you think love is?’ is a good opening. If she won’t say, she has no idea. Don’t push it beyond where she wants to go. Truly hear what she has to say, make no judgments, then try sharing with her what you think love is.”

If, after two weeks of knowing your daughter, a guy said to her, “You’re my life, I love you, let’s express our love in sex,” would your daughter believe him? “Many teens would,” says Dr. Julius.

You’d know your daughter was dealing with this issue only if she told you. But many teens won’t. That’s why it’s so important to help her develop a bigger picture of what love is. Share this heart-saving shortcut with her: “When a guy tells you he loves you, those are just words. Love is what you experience when he’s happily meeting your needs and you’re happily meeting his, all the while maintaining your self-respect and meeting your own needs, too.”

That’s not crazy, and it’s not little. It’s love.

Parent Support Services & Bob Prittie Library Invite Parents, Grandparents, Counselors, all to:

Friday, November 5th, 2010

How to Frog-Proof Your Daughter

By Kaycee Jane, author of ‘Frog or Prince? The smart girl’s guide to boyfriends.’

Date: Thursday, November 18th, 2010      6:30pm – 8:30pm

For more details Frog or Prince Event

The Tyee

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Waking up after the Pitt Meadows Nightmare

Images of a girl allegedly drugged and gang-raped went viral. What do parents now say to teens? > read more

by Kaycee Jane

Laurence Fishburne’s daughter, Montana, and her entry into the world of porn

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Dr. Julius Licata, Director of TeenCentral.net says celebrities like Kim Kardashian and now Montana Fishburne send a message we don’t want to give our young people: sex is something you barter.  

Did Kardashian influence Montana Fishburne to become a porn star? Montana says that she did. But she also said she likes sex and thinks porn is a good way to explore different fantasies.

Dr. Julius says what’s evident is that sex has become Montana’s currency. She wants media attention. “I can make a name for myself using sex”—the media is doing stories about her. People are talking about her. She now has a career. If she wants to hurt her parents, sex is the way—her parents are horrified. The message this young woman is sending is one that hurts all young woman: use your sexuality as payment and you can get everything you want.

Does Montana have the insight “knowing if I do this now, what affect it will have on me or someone else—to make a choice to become a porn star? She’s of legal age.

Some girls hook up, thinking, “This will get me closer to boyfriend, to love,” or “Having a boyfriend gets me to popular.” Sound crazy? Only if you’re unfamiliar with today’s youth culture. Read Laid: Young People’s Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture. Finding it difficult to talk with your daughter about sex? Read Meg Hickling’s Grown-Up Sex: Sexual Wholeness for the Better Part of Your Life.

Have you talked to your daughter about hooking up?  Check out what Lily, a high-school girl (and fabulous blogger) thinks about hooking up.  What does your daughter think? Does she  know what a girl deserves in a hookup (like safe sex and to feel, not just give, pleasure)? Have you talked to her about the difference between a positive and negative hookup experience? Does she think hooking up is a great way to get to know a guy?

Knowing what to expect from a hookup or relationship—what needs she deserves to have met, and how she deserves to be treated—is a way for her to make informed choices.

What comes to mind is Lynn Glazier’s project “IT’S A TEEN’S WORLD: wired for sex, lies and power trips,” where teens use films to tell us how our sexually charged world influences their choices. Parents need to listen to these voices. Montana Fishburne’s story-line is just as likely to be played out at your teen’s school.  

If Montana Fishburne wants to be in films, maybe it’s because she played the lead in ”Pursuit of Popularity”—girl uses sex to get popularity (or fame, in her case) in high-school. Or “Under Pressure”—girl’s make up stories—so-and-so is pregnant, getting an abortion, has already had sex with four guys, i.e., use sexual gossip to get what they want. After Jamie Fox disses Montana on his radio show she twittered that he was making a gay porno sex tape. Yes I know, she says her twitter account was hi-jacked. Just saying. Not judging. And then there’s the dating violence: Montana allegedly was arrested for beating up her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.  

It’s important to talk to your teens about healthy relationships—how to respect themselves and others while getting their needs met, and how to get others to do the same. Parents need to be mindful that women like Kardashian and Montana Fishburne can become role models for their daughters. But what parents really need to be aware of is that Montana was probably influenced as much by her high-school culture as she was by Kardashin.

I read “Telling it like it is: Teen Perspectives on Romantic Relationships” many teens said they didn’t believe in that crazy little thing called love. Remember this? You pull off the first petal and say: “He loves me.” And the next: “He loves me not.” You repeat until you get to the last petal to find out whether your boyfriend loves. Sound crazy? Have you talked to your daughter about love? Or have you left it up to Google?

Talk to her about love—show her a way to see love. Share this heart-saving shortcut: “When a guy tells you he loves you, those are just words. Love is what you experience when he’s happily meeting your needs (and maybe some you didn’t even know you had!) and you’re happily meeting his, all the while maintaining your self-respect and meeting your own needs, too.”

Is becoming a porn star good for Montana? Is hooking up good for girls? It depends on how well a girl knows and likes herself and whether she has the information and skills to make a deliberate choice. Self-respect is knowing what our needs and wants are, learning to recognize what it feels like to get them met, and using that self-knowledge to make deliberate choices.

Healthy relationship criteria can help teens make better choices. They’ll help your daughter figure out what she’s shopping for—hookup or boyfriend? A hookup is a way for a girl to get physical needs met—to desire, to be noticed—with no strings, no commitment. And to get any sex she desires, from kissing to intercourse. If she’s shopping for more than release (to be pleasured and give pleasure)—like caring or commitment—she needs to reset her bar to “boyfriend.”

And that would be where we step in—to help her to find a way to do that, with reasons, with answers—to provide insight about what she’s shopping for amidst coercive influences of celebrities and culture! A  big part of a beautiful life—which we all want for our daughters—comes from knowing the difference between a Prince and a Frog.

To respect ourselves and our daughters we really need to be fearless.


Kaycee Jane

Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral.net ‘s Parent section and get help from a professional.

Frog or Prince’s ‘Last words about teen dating violence’ at RWJF’s healthy relationship conversation. Criteria vs Concepts.

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Youth can identify things that make for a healthy relationship—respect, boundaries, balance, and so on. Can they use these concepts to make smart choices? It is difficult to apply concepts to real-life situations. I believe teens can use healthy relationship criteria to make better choices. When a teen knows how to express their wants and needs (by managing their feelings) they’ll have rock-solid criteria to influence their choices. I take examples of emotional abuse—coercion, jealousy, criticism—and use some tools from Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends to illustrate my point.

I spent five years writing “Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends.” A Prince is a metaphor for a healthy relationship; a Frog is the opposite. I wrote it after my daughter went out with a Frog. I was beside myself: Why was she with him? She either didn’t know the difference between a Frog and a Prince, or else she believed she deserved a Frog. How could she exit? Avoid future Frogs? By acquiring information, skills and tools. And by building a beautiful life. >read more

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Does your daughter need dating advice—from you?

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Well, there’s more to a healthy relationship than sex—so yes, she absolutely does. Giving your daughter dating advice may sound taboo and weird. But who else will talk to her about the differences between a Frog and a Prince. > read more

Your daughter’s boyfriend

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Remember this? Pull off the first petal and say: “He loves me.” And the next: “He loves me not.” Repeat until you get to the last petal to find out whether your boyfriend loves you or not. Sound crazy? Have you talked to your daughter about love? Or left it up to Google?

The other day, riding the bus, I overheard one woman tell another about her daughter’s great boyfriend. I almost turned and said, “You are one lucky duck.” Instead I eavesdropped as she went through her criteria—he comes from a good family (his dad’s a doctor), owns his own car, buys her daughter bling, and so on. Nothing about his traits (was he thoughtful, honest, kind?) or his character (did he respect her?). How, I wondered, could she know if he was actually a great guy?

Often the standards we use to assess what makes for a great guy don’t include what makes for a healthy relationship. Ask Tiger Woods’s mother-in-law. Since we can’t choose or criticize our daughters’ boyfriends, it’s our daughters who need to be able to determine who’s a great guy. Other than her feelings, what criteria does she use?

Beliefs influence actions. Our daughters believe lots of things about what makes for a great relationship—like, you have to accept a guy as he is, warts and all. Poppycock! To truly know if her guy is great, she must really know him, and like his traits, and be able to accept how he gets his needs met from her.

One healthy relationship criterion—met needs—can help a girl determine if she’s with a great guy. Is your daughter really familiar with her boyfriend? Say you asked her to describe him—would she list the same traits his ex-girlfriend would (aggressive, funny, dependable, jealous, for example)? To meet her need to be familiar with him, she must know what his best and worst personality traits are. If she really likes him, she may have to come to terms with some traits she may not like. But she can’t accept a guy’s annoying traits if they undermine her self-respect.  

Some girls set their bar too low. A girl might accept the way a guy treats her because she loves him, wants a boyfriend at any price, or doesn’t understand how a guy should show her respect. Some girls think jealousy is a “slam-dunk” sign that a guy loves her. It’s not. Jealousy can be a precursor to stalking.

Share this heart-saving shortcut with your daughter: “A guy who’s always jealous, controlling, never trusting, feels he’s not worth your trust. His lack of self-worth makes him afraid of anything that might take you away from him—friends, family, a job, other guys. He doesn’t respect himself, so how could he respect you? If you let him control you, you’re confirming what he believes: that you don’t respect yourself enough to stand up to him and leave.”

Your daughter can tell if her guy respects her by how he gets his needs met from her. Does he use character—saying what he means, doing what he says, knowing right from wrong—to get what he wants? Tiger’s wife can attest to how important a guy’s character is. An important part of getting to know a guy is finding out whether she can trust what he says. If he lies to her about where he was/what he did, he doesn’t respect her (or himself) enough to tell the truth.

How does her guy act when it’s difficult for her to meet his needs (for example, when he wants something she doesn’t want to give him)? “The Teen Relationships Project” is studying bullying, harassment, and dating violence in relationships of Canadian children and youth. Half of surveyed students are victims of verbal aggression (spreading rumors, getting even, hurtful teasing). One in four is a victim of minor physical aggression (pushing, grabbing, smashing an object). One in five is a victim of major physical aggression.

Share another heart-saving shortcut with your daughter: “You deserve to be treated with respect. These unhealthy behaviors shouldn’t clear any woman’s bar. A guy doesn’t respect you if, when he can’t get his way, he punishes you, or calls you names like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut,’ or gets even by spreading rumors, or threatens to post embarrassing pictures of you on Facebook. If a guy is physically rough in any way, tell me, and we’ll find a way for you to respect yourself—and EXIT!”

Teens are easily confused between what’s healthy and what’s not. So are more than a few adults. Does your daughter understand that Tiger’s behavior reflects his lack of understanding of a healthy relationship? And that Elin’s leaving him reflects her self-respect. Stand by your man? Not when he’s a Frog!

In a healthy relationship, your daughter’s most important needs are met, there are heart-to-heart conversations, and the respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—is mutual.  Taking care of herself—meeting her own needs—is an act of self-respect, and a big step toward coming to know what she needs and expects in an adult relationship.

Talk to your daughter about love—to show her a way to see love. Share this heart-saving shortcut: “When a guy tells you he loves you, those are just words. Love is what you experience when he’s happily meeting your needs (and maybe some you didn’t even know you had!) and you’re happily meeting his, all the while maintaining your self-respect and meeting your own needs, too.”

Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon only). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral. Net’s Parent section and get help from a professional.

Teen dating violence

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Have you ever talked to your teen about dating violence? Many parents talk about sex, bullying, smoking, internet safety, substance abuse—all good subjects. But dating violence? It’s a complex issue, and largely neglected.

“Maybe that’s because we perceive it as not likely to happen to our own teens,” says Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, of the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing. “Only incidents resulting in death make the news. And we don’t understand how much impact all levels of violence can have. Emotional and lower levels of physical abuse may not put you into the hospital, but they can affect your health by causing you to do poorly in school and at work, contributing to depression, substance abuse, even suicide.”

“We’re where the bullying research was 15 years ago,” says Dr. Claire Crooks, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “Dating violence isn’t taken seriously because dating is not taken seriously. Measurement issues coupled with lack of standardized definitions create another layer of complexity. Also, we don’t have consensus among educators on whether teen dating violence is a parental matter or a public matter.”

 A 2008 Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics survey found that, in the age group 14-18 in Canada, 4 teens died, 148 were sexually assaulted, and 2,586 were physically assaulted by an intimate partner. And these statistics don’t capture emotional/verbal, physical, and sexual aggression—the most common forms of violence in teen dating.

The Teen Relationships Project, meanwhile, found that half of all teenaged students are victims of verbal aggression (spreading rumors, getting even, hurtful teasing), one in four is a victim of minor physical aggression (pushing, grabbing or smashing an object) and one in five is a victim of major physical aggression (like slamming someone against a wall, or slapping).

We tend to dismiss the impact of low-level violence or conflict that results from poor relationship skills, says Saewyc. “Youth model the relationships they see around them. How much sexual violence and abuse in the media do you think teens see as normal, and in peer and adult relationships?”

Steve Sullivan, the first Federal Ombudsman for victims of crime, says: “With teen violence, we need to learn more about how youth define it. Some victims may not think that a slap is violence; they may not see, or want to see, their partner as a violent person.  It’s difficult to convince anyone to come forward when they recognize unacceptable behaviour, but it’s even more difficult if teens don’t understand the behaviour as criminal aggression. We need to find a way to educate teens about violence, abuse and aggression, and let them know that it doesn’t just mean serious physical harm.”

Teens get confused between what’s healthy and what’s not, says Kate McCord, the Red Flag Campaign Co-coordinator for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “Very few of us—adults—have been taught this. It’s worthwhile to teach kids how relationships can be affirming versus destructive. Healthy relationship concepts—for example, what trust, safety, connection, boundaries or balance look like—can be nebulous to understand.”

How do we reduce teen violence? We need potential victims and abusers “to understand that violence is unacceptable and has real consequences,” says Sullivan. Help teenagers understand how to recognize abuse, and encourage them to report it. Call your teen’s high school, find out how they deal with sexual harassment, and ask whether they have a dating violence program in place.

 “It’s important to provide programs in schools that focus on healthy relationships. But that’s not enough,” says Saewyc. “We also need to help parents and families understand what a healthy relationship is so that they can support their teens.”

Dating violence can escalate from verbal and emotional abuse to sexual assault and violent physical assault. Abuse continuums (co-developed by college-aged students) at www.theredflagcampaign.org illustrate how dating violence works and highlight early warning signs. The continuum describes an escalating range from sexist jokes, sexual objectification, jealousy, minimizing partner’s feelings and needs regarding sex, criticizing a partner sexually, unwanted touch, withholding sex and affection, sexual labels like “whore” or “frigid,” always demanding sex—all the way to murder.

I asked McCord what’s important for a parent to understand about dating violence. She said: “What calls for attention is the gray area—psychological abuse. For example, isolation, jealousy and coercion are not necessarily illegal or physical, but they are no less destructive than physical and sexual violence and can be precursors to physical and sexual violence.”

Would your teen know what to do if her boyfriend insulted her repeatedly, called her names, demanded all her attention, ignored her feelings, or put down her ability to act on her own behalf?  Teens need to know what to do when they come up against aggressive behaviors in a relationship. “Youth need better skills for how to manage conflict in respectful ways,” says Saewyc. “They need to know what their rights and responsibilities in a relationship are,” adds Crooks. “And that when they break up with someone, that person doesn’t have the right to send out naked pictures of them on Facebook.”

There are good on-line resources to help you to understand how to talk to your child. Here are some:

 “Teen dating violence is a serious issue in Canada,” says Sullivan, who adds that crimes of violence between intimate partners are seriously under-reported. “Beyond the statistics is a young person who in many cases is suffering the victimization alone. Many do not tell anyone and therefore do not get the support they need. And they learn the wrong lessons from the violence—they deserved it, they’re not worthy of better treatment—that they carry into adult relationships.”

Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral.net’s Parent section and get help from a professional.

“The Talk” Spoken to your daughter about teen sex? Check. But what about teen dating?

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

We know about the consequences of not talking to our daughters about sex. Daytime television and tabloid papers are rife with them. But what about the consequences of not talking to them about healthy relationships? Sure, we make rules—at what age they can date, for instance, and what type of dating activities are appropriate. Is that enough? Absolutely not.

We like to think that a young woman gradually works her way from Frog to Prince, each guy hopefully a little better than the one before. In most cases, alas, she never gets to the Prince. Relationships are complicated. Often, our daughters lack the information and skills to build a healthy relationship with a boyfriend.

I started to write Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends for my daughter after I saw her holding the hand of a Frog. I wanted her to understand that in a healthy relationship our important needs are met, that partners have heart-to-heart conversations, and that respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—is mutual.

We all have needs (to accept, to forgive, to feel important , to value ourselves and another, to expect those things in return). How can your daughter tell if she’s in a healthy relationship? To repeat: by assessing whether those needs are getting met. Here’s a heart-saving shortcut to tell her: “If you and your boyfriend keep having re-run arguments about the same need—say, your need to feel important—you’ve discovered an unmet need. Hurt feelings grow out of unmet needs. When your boyfriend doesn’t include your feelings and needs in his choices—canceling plans when something better comes up, for example—hurt feelings bubble up. Those feelings are a signal. This guy might be a frog.”

Here’s another way she can tell: Can she have a heart-to-heart with her guy, even when she’s negotiating to get her needs met? In a healthy relationship, both partners listen; each will meet the other’s need to be heard and understood. They’ll challenge one another, adjust their perspective if the other raises good points. Another heart-saving shortcut: “When your guy doesn’t listen, he can’t add to his self-knowledge or his understanding of you. This means he can’t learn and grow in your relationship. And you won’t be able to work through your feelings—you won’t get your needs met.”

In a healthy relationship, a guy will use respect to get his needs met. A big part of respecting others is asking for what you want, then knowing that it’s up to the other person to decide whether they want to meet your need. Here’s another heart-saving shortcut: “If your boyfriend asks you to do something, you get to decide if you want to do it. He may negotiate, but if he can’t get his way, he must respect your answer. If he uses controlling behaviour, making up rules—‘Pick up the phone when I call, no matter what’—or pressuring you to get his wants met, he’s not respecting you.”

Young women need specific skills to develop healthy relationships, says Dr. Joanne Davila in her research paper “Assessing romantic competence in adolescence: The Romantic Competence Interview.” I asked Davila, who teaches Psychology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, if the abilities she assesses in determining a girl’s romantic competence are the same as the skills a girl needs to build a healthy relationship. “I hope so!” she replied. “That’s our goal in developing the construct and doing our research.”

Davila determines whether girls are able “to think about relationships with a consideration of mutuality, in a thoughtful, insightful way that shows learning from experience.” In other words, seeing the other’s perspective, listening, taking turns talking, and adjusting one’s perspective when the other raises good points? “Exactly,” she said.

According to Davila, it’s about “linking the consequences of her choices to her experiences—knowing if I do this now, what’s going to happen in future, or what effect will it have on me or someone else? Being able to decide if she wants to do something based on what’s right for her. Even if all her friends are engaging in sexual activities, say, if she knows she’s not ready emotionally, she realizes, ‘That’s not good for me.’”

Most girls get sad if they fight with their boyfriend, says Davila, but to prevent that from turning into depression, girls need to do things to prevent themselves from getting stuck, things that will help them solve the problem and see their situation in a realistic, balanced way.

If we want our daughters to have the information and skills to build healthy relationships, we must not only talk to them about healthy relationship principles but also incorporate  those principles in our relationship with them.  It’s teaching by example. Only in this way can our daughters avoid the too-frequent negative consequences of dating, such as emotional trauma or a loss of self-esteem.

What happens when girls lack romantic competence? “When young women have troubles in their relationships,” says Davila, “they’re at greater risk for feeling anxious, depressed and developing concerns about their body image, as well as for repeating in later relationships the negative interaction patterns they’ve learned. Being involved in romantic relationships in adolescence is not a bad thing. The message is not to keep our adolescents from having these experiences. The message is to help our daughters be competent in relationships.”

Does your daughter know the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors—between a supportive boyfriend and a controlling one, for example? Does she know how to tell if her boyfriend’s getting his needs met while still respecting her? Does she have the skills to deal with her boyfriend when he can’t get his way? Could she make a tough self-respect choice if it made her boyfriend unhappy or caused him to break up with her?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, your daughter needs to learn more about what makes for a healthy relationship. When girls know better, they do better—it’s that simple.