Talking to your teenage daughter about her boyfriend, whether he is her first or fifth, has the potential to be a rough conversation. That’s because fathers might have a hard time coming to terms with their daughter’s burgeoning romantic desires and needs. And for teen girls, it’s wildly uncomfortable to be seen as even having romantic desires and needs. But while all of this makes it difficult to find common ground, talking about relationships with teen girls remains crucial. Because other, popular sources of relationship can be unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.
“Kids have their heads filled with all kinds of romantic ideals and ideas. What they need to know is that good relationships, are good relationships, are good relationships,” Deborah Roffman, who has taught human sexuality education at the Park School of Baltimore since 1975 and is the author of, Talk To Me First: Everything You Need To Know To Become Your Kids’ Go-To Person About Sex.
How to Talk to Your Teenager Daughter About Her Boyfriend
- Talk about relationships as early as it makes sense to you, with frequency, and without judgment, in an age-appropriate way.
- When it comes to having ‘the talk,’ remember that it’s a holistic conversation about consent and romance, not just genitals.
- Parents should link what healthy friendships look like to what healthy romantic relationships look like.
- Parents should constantly compliment their daughter on their strengths, and remind them that respect is when people don’t breach their boundaries.
- Accept that your teen might be boy-crazy for a little while. Teenagers are very present-oriented and, despite best efforts, will likely think their teenage boyfriend is ‘the one.’
And in order to be able to honestly talk to your daughter about these things — and have her actually absorb that information — these conversations need to happen early and often, Hoffman stresses.
Importantly, it’s not just about launching into “the talk”. Yes, sex is an important part of discussing what healthy relationships look like, but parents have a tendency to get bogged down in the physical. Hoffman stresses that sex is far more than the technical definition.
“We tend to have a definition of sexuality in this culture that’s focused on genitals,” she says. “Because that’s the part that adults find uncomfortable to talk about. Look at the way we define sex! It’s this part touching that part. That’s a technical body part definition that doesn’t say anything about the human being attached to those parts.”
To that end, Roffman notes that all discussions of sex should include nuance. The emotional aspects should be discussed. The people who are engaged with sex should be considered. It’s more complicated than smashing genitals together. Parents should take a holistic view. And maybe never use the phrase “smashing genitals.” Because, ew.
Parents who want to talk to their daughters about their boyfriends should also avoid what Roffman considers a common mistake: failing to address trust in the context of romance.
“The things that are part of all of your good relationships are the things that will sustain healthy romantic relationships,” she says. “Kids already know this. Ask them how they decide they can trust somebody. It’s based on track record. Right? Well, that’s the same here. There are basic life skills that we teach kids about everything else, but not around the subject of romance.”
Parents need to engage early and often to their kids about what healthy friendships are like and, when appropriate, extend that to romance. Hoffman suggests parents ask their kids, “What are the signs of a relationship that is controlling and might verge on abusive? Someone who isolates you, doesn’t want you to have other friends, constantly wants to know where you are, talks about other people in demeaning ways, they talk about other girls in particular in a demeaning way, what does that tell you?” she says.
Parents also need to focus on self-esteem — daughters need to know how much they are worth, how much they are worth in the context of a relationship. Kids with self-esteem know what they will and won’t do, and it’s hard for them to be convinced otherwise, Hoffman says.
“Suppose a guy wants to do something sexually and the girl says ‘No, that’s not something I want to do.’ As soon as that other person tries to change their mind, the conversation is no longer about sex. It’s about respect. You’ve just said what is true for you. For someone to try to talk you out of that is to only be caring about themselves. There’s no fundamental respect for you. If you have low self-esteem, look at how easily you might be talked out of what you know to be true for you,” says Hoffman.