When Teen Dating is Troublesome
Helping Young People Discover Healthy Dating Relationships
By John Schaller, MS, NCC, LPC, Samaritan Counseling Center
The internet is having powerful effects on the ways teens date and/or engage in romantic relationships. In my practice as a counselor, I work with young people to set personal boundaries, recognize healthy relationships, and build coping strategies for modern-day pressures. Here is some of what I see in my practice:
There is intense pressure to engage in sexting. Young people are pressured to send naked pictures of themselves or other sexual content over the internet to their romantic partners. The real-time nature of the internet especially manipulates the emotions of teens, many of whom are still controlled by impulses and motivated by the need for instant gratification and validation by others. If young people do not have models of healthy relationships in their lives, or validation from other family members, they are more likely to “do anything” to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend instead of setting personal boundaries that command the respect they deserve.
We need to talk about real love. When young people are raised in a social climate where marriages, sibling relationships and friendships have been irreparably broken, they don’t have a concept of what real, committed love is. They have to learn not all love relationships are doomed to end, and that holding fast to one’s self-respect helps them sort good from bad—and increase one’s chances of finding a healthy long-term love relationship. Remember the rush of emotions when you started dating? Simply the newness of dating can leave any young person perplexed about what good relationships should look like!
Social media is a master manipulator. Social media has exponentially expanded the pressure on young people to go along with otherwise poor dating behaviors. In the past, kids might have passed notes or spread gossip about a certain individual, couple, or relationship scandal. Now the accused are tagged by name in posts and hundreds of people can see (and share) the message in mere seconds. The power to manipulate a young person into making a damaging decision—whether it’s sexting, staying in an abusive or controlling relationship, or placing themselves in a situation that is flat-out uncomfortable—can go unchecked unless a young person receives healthy guidance from parents or other trusted adults. The choices they make now, even in the midst of intense pressure, will still be there on the internet—or in the emotional wounds they carry—long after they’ve grown and matured into the next stage of life. As a therapist, I work with clients and families to respond to these pressures in a way that honors a young person’s dignity and worth.
To learn more about healthy dating relationships, I recommend 50 Characteristics of Healthy Relationships by Alice Boyes, Ph.D. If you or someone you love needs help to learn how to establish healthy dating relationships, call Samaritan. We are here to help.