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Laying the Groundwork for Future Conversations with your Littles

By: Kelly McBride, executive director, Domestic Violence Network

February is Teen Dating Violence (TDV) Awareness month. Engaging teens in healthy relationship practices is a great start to preventing domestic violence later in life. With one in three teens experiencing TDV, it is most certainly a topic that parents and teachers need to discuss with youth, along with drugs, sex and other important conversations.

Yet, waiting to talk to your teen until they are dating is a bit counterproductive. It is important to lay a solid foundation for your littles before they reach dating age. A parent might ask, how in the world am I supposed to do that with my elementary-aged child?

My nine-year-old son, “K,” came home the other day and confided in me that something embarrassing had happened to him. He proceeded to tell me that he asked a girl to a family- friendly school dance but she wasn’t able to go because she is going to Disney World. My very first instinct was to laugh and dismiss him – he’s nine! He has no business “dating” or having a “girlfriend.” But I could tell this was really weighing on his mind, so we continued the conversation. It turns out that two of his buddies have girlfriends, and K wanted to know how to get a girlfriend. This lead to a great discussion about consent, about what qualities K would look for in a girlfriend when the time comes, and that rejection is a part of life and no bearing on him as a person. We had a wonderful heart-to-heart discussion about relationships and what they mean to him.

If I would have laughed and dismissed his feelings, that could have set the tone for any future discussions he wanted to have with me, and negatively impacted not only our relationship, but any relationships he will have in the future. Instead, I listened to understand, asked questions to seek knowledge and empathized with my little guy and learned how important relationships are to him.

I laid the foundation for healthy relationships for him that day. I opened the door for future conversations surrounding not only relationships, but also sex, when the time comes. Talking to your teen about healthy relationships, Teen Dating Violence warning signs and consent is important and should be a part of your daily conversations with your teenagers. But don’t forget to lay the groundwork with your littles. It will make those tough conversations later-in-life much easier.

Written by Kelly McBride, DVN’s Executive Director