As your child gets older they may begin to be interested in, or start to have romantic relationships. As young people go through puberty it is natural that they begin thinking about their sexuality, and what they find attractive in a person. This can come as a bit of a shock and a reminder that your child is growing older.
Your support and understanding of these early relationships' is important. Your child needs you to take their feelings seriously.
Relationships aren't always positive and can be tricky or cause a lot of ups and downs. Having you available to talk through their thoughts and feelings will make a big difference. It can take time for teenagers to understand how to behave and treat each other well in a relationship.
Healthy Young Relationships
First relationships can be really positive. They can increase self esteem and confidence and widen your child’s friendship circle. Some may last a long while, some can be very short lived, but they are a part of your child learning how to get along with others.
It is important that your child knows that they can talk to you about it. Adolescents are not always that keen on ‘a talk’ with their parent – but keep offering your time and showing you are interested in them. There are some good communication tips here.
Young relationships can be very intense. Encourage your child to enjoy time with their partner but not let all other friends and interests fall by the wayside.
Having confidence and self esteem will make your child more able to value their own self worth and be able to treat others well.
Although some young romantic relationships can last a long time, often they come to an end. This can be really hard to cope with.
Your child will need to grieve for the loss of something that was special to them. It is important that parents and carers recognise how important the relationship was to them, and how painful the end of a relationship might be.
It is hard to watch your child feel hurt and upset. Don’t feel you have to ‘fix it’. Being there and reassuring them that they will be fine will help.
Although this is a painful experience your child will learn that they can survive. It is an important lesson. They will know they have a support network to rely on. They are learning to build resilience, this will help them through tough times in the future.
If you are worried that your child is badly affected for longer than you would have expected, with symptoms of low mood get advice. Call your GP or Just One Number to talk to a health professional for support.
Early relationships with peers of similar ages are not always sexual. If there is an age gap of more than a year or two you may need to be curious about why an older, young person would want to be with them. With bigger age gaps there is likely to be a difference in maturity, and expectations of the relationship. It can mean that the power and control in the relationship sits with the older partner. It is important to be alert to this.
Whilst often first relationships do not involve sex, it is very important that your child understands contraception, sexual health how to keep them self safe.
Being able to talk about this with you, is part of your young person showing they are mature enough for a sexual relationship. It is part of showing respect for themselves and the other person.
Ideally it is great if you feel able to talk to your child about this. If you don’t think you can or you do not think your child will be able to talk to you about it, think about who else your child might trust.
However embarrassed you and / or your child are, it is really important that you do not leave the conversation to chance. Your child needs to know how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and / or unplanned pregnancy.
Young people can be particularly prone to being persuaded to do things they would rather not do. They can be impulsive and not think through their actions.
Find out more about the teenage brain
Understanding consent is really important for children and young people. They need to know that they get to say what does and does not happen to their bodies. They must respect this for others too.
No always means no – even if you previously said yes. You can always change your mind.
The video below explains consent - you could watch it together.
If your child has had healthy relationship role models as they have grown up they are more likely to find it easier to make healthy relationships themselves. Talking to them about relationships you have had can be useful – the good and the bad.
Some young relationships are not healthy and have signs of abuse. There are different types of abuse in relationships. It is not always as easy to spot as you might think, especially in the early days of a relationship.
It can be easy to misunderstand a partner being possessive, angry and even violent as a sign they ‘really care’. Your child may need help to see any signs of abuse in their relationship. Try not to directly criticise their girlfriend or boyfriend – this will probably make them defensive. Talk about TV characters relationships, things you read or hear about to help the conversation not feel so personal. Ask questions, start conversations and make them think;
Abuse in young relationships is worryingly common, so the risk of this needs to be taken seriously and parents and young people need to be alert to the signs.
Do this quiz together. It can help you and your child have a conversation about the good and bad things in relationships.
If you feel concerned about the relationship your child is in - their safety and wellbeing is the priority. If you are worried that your child is in an abusive relationship it is important to act. You can speak to school for advice or call Just One Number to talk to a health professional and discuss your options. If you think they are in immediate danger call 999.
If you cannot make voice calls, you can now contact the 999 emergency services by SMS text from your mobile phone. Emergency SMS is part of the standard 999 service which has been designed specifically for people with hearing loss or difficulty with speech.
You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.
For adults Qwell provides free, safe and anonymous mental wellbeing support for adults in Norfolk and Waveney from a professional team of qualified counsellors.
For 11–25 year olds Kooth is a free, confidential and safe way to receive online counselling, advice and emotional well-being support.
Childline - Children and young people under 19 can call 0800 1111 for free support.
Young Minds Parents Helpline - Call 0808 802 5544 for free Mon-Fri from 9.30am to 4pm.
To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.