Middle School Matters: Start Talking to your pre-teens about Dating and Healthy Relationships

How young is too young to start talking to my child about dating?

As many of you know I have six children, five of which are girls.  The thought of dating is always there and what things I should say to them, but sometime in the future.   A new study came out that makes me think I should talk to the kids sooner.  In this study, more than 1,400 7th-graders showed a high number of pre-teens are not only dating, but experiencing abusive relationships and sexual harassment.

I experienced sexual harassment when I was in Jr High, so I know to speak to my kids early, but I need to speak to them about abuse from boyfriends and girlfriends.  This study further  reinforces that need, because waiting until high school to talk about dating is just too late.  Middle school is the best time to teach children about healthy relationships and prevent dating violence before it starts.

What can parents do?

Take advantage of this window of time. Educate yourself on the warning signs of teen dating abuse and learn how to start conversations with pre-teens about what behaviors should never be tolerated in a dating relationship.

Be on the watch for the subtle signs of an abusive relationship, and notice if your pre-teen:

· Receives excessive text messaging, phone calling, emailing or visiting with boyfriend or girlfriend.
· Stops hanging out with friends or participating in family activities.
· Starts having declining grades or missing school.
· Seems afraid to disagree with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend; always does what partner wants
· Has injuries he/she tries to cover up or can’t explain

If any of the above are correct, your child may be in an unhealthy relationship.

Here are some tips for talking to your children:

· Talk to your children about peer pressure both online and off, before they are even in a relationship.
· Discuss what it means to be a good friend, laying a foundation for healthy romantic relationships later in life.
· Encourage and model healthy and safe relationships.
· Use popular culture and current events to make teachable moments with your children. Ask them what they think about relationship behaviors that they see, and discuss what’s appropriate and what’s not.
· Discuss what a healthy relationship looks like, feels like and sounds like.

These findings came from an evaluation of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s national program, Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, the largest initiative ever funded to prevent dating abuse among 11-14 year olds in 11 different communities across the U.S. To learn more about how to start conversations with your child, and increase your knowledge about teen dating abuse visit www.startstrongparents.org, for free parent resources available in English and Spanish.

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