Talking with Teenagers about Relationships


Relationships are foundational for teenagers.  They can bring your adolescent son or daughter more happiness—and more sorrow—than almost anything in their lives in these years.  They have profound power.  We want the teenagers we love to have friends who encourage them, speak truth into their lives, and help them be the best versions of themselves.  If they date at some point while they still live under our roofs, we want those relationships to bring the same…and to be the ones that reflect wisdom and purity.

What if they don’t?  How do we handle it when our daughter has a friend who seems to criticize her more than encourage her?  When our son has friends who we’ve heard have started to make poor choices?  When she becomes interested in someone who is not the type of person we believe God would want for her?

It’s tough.  It’s hard to know how to steer them toward healthy relationships and away from unhealthy ones without creating a “forbidden fruit” type of situation.  And, I can tell you from a counselor’s perspective, I have seen that situation play out many times.  The friend or guy or girl your teenager is interested in, only becomes that much more appealing when you tell them they’re “not allowed to hang out” anymore.

So, what can you do?  It’s another one of those places that thoughtful conversations can make a significant difference.  Questions like these can help:

Tell me more about __________.

What do you like about him or her?

What kind of friend has she/he been to you?

Why do you think you’re interested in him/her?

How does he/she make you feel when you’re with him?

Does he/she make you feel better about yourself or worse?  How?

Who is the kind of person you believe God would want you to date?

Ask these questions over a cup of coffee, or on a walk, or in some other type of non-threatening kind of situation.  Be gentle and remind them that you’re on their team.  We know a family who had a “red flag” system with family members.  When any child brought home a friend or someone they were interested in, any other family member could simply say “red flag.” And, it was up to that person to ask questions.  It was a less direct way to convey their point.  That whole back door idea of “To the degree that kids can predict you, they’ll dismiss you” kind of thing.  

How can you be unpredictable and stay connected in the conversation?  How can you invite thoughtfulness rather than deliver lectures, (which is often our go-to when we’re concerned).  You’ll get much farther with conversation in the long run. 

There are times that we have to step in for the kids we love.  We have seen situations where a relationship becomes destructive enough that kids have had to be separated from each other, or even removed from a certain school environment to break ties.  These are times where the child simply cannot see the truth themselves and is unwilling to make the changes we know will help them more in the long run.  But, the power of discovery has much more impact.  Stay aware.  Stay connected.  And have conversations.  Your relationship continues to be the most foundational in these years, even if they don’t really act like it.

-originally published in Parenting Teens magazine