Ask the Specialist: Talking to Teens about Healthy Dating
Q: My 15-year-old is interested in another young person at her high school but I’m not sure if I should let her start dating. She’s had difficulties with some friends in the past, including one friend who demanded all of her time.
– Mom in Arkansas
A: ADHD complicates friendships for many teens and it sounds like this may have happened for your daughter. When dating begins, those same symptoms can make things rocky. Discuss with your daughter your family’s values and expectations. Talk with her about the qualities to look for in a dating partner, especially respect, consideration for her feelings and values, and the understanding that they are both still developing as young people.
Among high school students, 21 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys have experienced some type of dating violence. Teens affected by ADHD are at a unique risk for unhealthy relationships because of the effects of the disorder: low self-esteem, difficulty making friends, and having experienced rejection from other classmates. Sometimes, teens will enter into a relationship where their dating partner becomes controlling or demanding, discourages her from spending time with other friends, or wants to know who she has talked with or seen. She may initially think these are signs of affection. The dating partner might say “If you loved me, you would do this,” and pressure the teen into drinking or substance use, unwanted sexual activity, or going against her family’s values. Other negative behaviors include telling the teen the dating partner is the only who likes them, using abusive language, stalking and physical abuse.
Some teens don’t recognize these behaviors as abusive or unusual. They can be reluctant to talk with their parents or other adults; they might feel disloyal or be worried they will be in trouble for having chosen the dating partner.
What can you do to help prevent your teen from experiencing an unhealthy relationship?
- Encourage your teen to have “group dates.” Spending time among friends takes the pressure off and allows your teen to get to know the dating partner better before spending time alone.
- When your teen does go on an individual date, know where she is going and with whom, when your teen expects to be home, and the best way to contact her. Let your teen know she can end the date at anytime and that you will come get her without questions.
- Model healthy communication between yourself and your spouse and friends. Role play with your teen ways to say “No, I’m not interested” and how to leave an uncomfortable situation.
- Encourage your teen to be choosy when selecting dating partners. Help your teen learn healthy ways of turning down a date or ending a relationship that isn’t respectful.
When should you intervene?
- Your teen loses interest in school or activities, is withdrawn or secretive, or displays signs of being depressed. Your teen is anxious, especially about her dating partner.
- Your teen stops hanging out with friends or going to other activities and spends all of her time with her dating partner. Your teen’s dating partner calls, texts or instant messages frequently and is upset if your teen doesn’t immediately respond.
- You suspect your teen has been using alcohol or drugs.
- There are unexplained bruises on your teen.
What to do:
- Help your teen end the relationship. If necessary, talk directly to the dating partner and his parents to make it clear your teen has ended the relationship. Involve school or legal authorities if the situation is warranted.
- Let your teen know she is not at fault for the situation. Listen to your teen if she wants to talk about the experience. Some teens will benefit from working with a mental health professional.
- Help your teen begin to re-enage with her friends or explore new social circles or activities when she is ready to do so.
Remember that dating violence does not discriminate. It happens to both men and women and all types of relationships.
Resources that can help your teen and you:
Love is Respect: National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline