Annie’s 10 Tips for Teaching Your Daughter Relationship Smarts

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

With younger and younger girls feeling the pressure to “get” a boyfriend, it’s essential that they receive clear and consistent messages from their parents about the Boyfriend/Girlfriend Zone. While the very thought of your middle school daughter with a boy may be too much to deal with, you can’t use that as an excuse not to provide the guidance she wants and needs.

  1. Recognize and appreciate the pressure she’s under — Talk about all the messages your daughter receives from peers, from the media, from family, and from within to “get” a boyfriend. These conversations help girls understand what they’re up against.
  2. True self-esteem comes from inside — Encourage your daughter to continue exploring her interests. Support her interests. The more direct experience she has in using her special gifts and talents, the clearer she’ll be about who she is and where she’s going, and the less likely she’ll let anyone define her.
  3. Be a safe person to talk to — When teens know that you can hear and listen as they express feelings of confusion, insecurity, anger, rejection, anxiety without trying to convince them that they shouldn’t feel what they’re feeling, then you are helping them process emotions in healthy ways.
  4. Where is Dad? — Girls who get consistent approval for their intelligence, humor, creativity, empathy, athleticism, etc., from their dads (and/or from other trusted adult males) are far less likely to be “desperately” seeking attention from boys.
  5. The word “friend” is in “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” for a reason! — Too often girls lower their standards when it comes to boyfriends and accept unacceptable behavior just because they want a bf so badly! Help your daughter set clear criteria for what is and what isn’t good boyfriend material.
  6. It’s a 2-way street — A healthy relationship (the only kind worth having) is based on mutual respect, trust, honesty, shared values and open communication. She needs to hear this from you consistently. It helps tremendously if you’re modeling this is your own relationships! She also needs to be able to give as good as she gets and vice versa when it comes to trust, respect, etc.
  7. Model healthy stress-management skills — Show your daughter that even when you’re upset, you know how to take care of yourself and the people around you by calming down and reflecting instead of freaking out and reacting. Do this and you show her how to deal with feelings and problems in healthy, thoughtful ways.
  8. Find teachable moments — Whether it’s discussing the Q & A in “Dear Abby,” or talking about relationships in a romantic comedy, you can use third person sources to increase your daughter’s relationship smarts.
  9. Be clear about your values and your expectations — Let her know where you stand when it comes to teen dating and teen sex and why. If you’re not sure where or why, then figure it out ASAP and communicate with your daughter.
  10. Be consistent in your empathy and compassion — Be honest, you wouldn’t want to be a teen again! This is a rough and emotional phase. Compassion, understanding, patience and a lot of deep breathing strengthen the bond between you and your daughter. That’s good, because she needs you now more than ever!
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