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Relationships

Teens spend most of their time with peers – at school, at work and at social or sports-related events. Your teen will likely spend all day at school with friends and will just die if she doesn't get to see her friends again at night. In her opinion, very important social activities are happening and she doesn't want to miss out on anything.

Friends

Friendship is very important during the teen years. Many teens will have a core group of about seven friends who are very similar to one another. Often a few core groups of friends will hang out together in larger groups. However, your teen is likely to believe he is a unique individual with different opinions and thoughts. Thinking this way is a normal part of forming his identity. It is a good idea to encourage and support this belief.

Teen girls are more likely to share personal thoughts, ideas and secrets with their girl friends than teen boys. Teen boys are more likely to do an activity together and are less likely to share personal information or get together just to talk.

Friends provide support and understanding to your teen, and this is very important over the next few years as teens experience more negative events in their lives than they did in their middle years. Growing and developing, changing physically and socially, and having occasional conflicts with parents, peers, teachers and/or bosses add up to more negative experiences. Friends provide the support to make it through the bumpy road ahead.

Friends also help teens understand themselves and others. Friendships allow teens to practice caring, sensitivity, communication, and sharing in safe relationships. Because of this, friendships are also the practice ground for intimate relationships later on in life. Happy, healthy friendships can also improve your teen's attitude towards school. It is believed that teens are more likely to do well academically if they have good friendships in school.

Sometimes our teens befriend people we don't like. If your teen is hanging out with kids that you don't approve of, talk to your teen about these relationships. You could ask him why he likes to be with these friends and what they do together, but stay calm and don't judge or criticize his friends. Your teen will probably have a hard time hearing what you say if he feels you are judging his choices and his friends.

You can tell your teen why you don't like her hanging out with certain people. Again, be prepared for your teen to be defensive when talking about her friends. Try not to yell, but be honest with your teen and explain why you think her friends may not be the best influences for her. Try to encourage your teen to meet new people through different activities or outings.

Gangs

Unfortunately, some teens do not have happy, healthy relationships with others. These teens are more likely to get involved with gangs as they are looking for friendship and belonging. Other teens might join a gang for protection, respect or to thrill seek. Still others feel like they don't have a choice and will be hurt if they don't join a gang.

Many parents worry about their teens getting involved with the wrong group of friends or gangs. Teens will try to find friendships that make them feel good about themselves. If you are concerned about your teen's friendships, talk to him. Encourage your teen to go to events where he can make new friends.

If your teen starts to wear different clothing or is always wearing a certain colour or two, this may be a sign that she is involved in a gang. Other signs include having gang symbols on her belongings, hanging out with unfamiliar people, getting involved with the justice system, declining interest in school or other activities and having more money than usual. If you think your teen may be involved in gang activity, it's best to address the situation immediately.

Talk to your teen about the realities of gangs. It's a good idea to tell your teen that he could get hurt, he could hurt his family and friends, and that he could be putting his future in jeopardy by joining a gang. Again, stay calm when you are talking to your teen and be honest. Tell her how scared, worried and upset you are. Finally, you might want to find a professional to talk to you and your teen about gang involvement. Manitoba has many supports for families or youth involved in gangs. Follow the link for more information.

Dating

It's going to happen... Many teens will begin dating and when they do, it's important that they know how to recognize a healthy, respectful relationship. Talk to your teen about respecting his or her date's boundaries and values and being in touch with one's own values. Let your teen know that it is okay and very important to share his thoughts on sexual activity with anyone he is dating.

It's also very important to talk to your teen about safe sex. While you may tell your teen not to have sex, he or she may not always listen. It is very important to ensure your teen is safe if he does engage in sexual activity and that he is educated about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), birth control options, and teen-friendly health clinics. Sharing this information with your teen – even before he or she starts dating – will give him the accurate information he needs to keep himself healthy.

Dating can be a lot of fun for teens, but it can also be filled with anxious moments and a few heartaches. Try not to minimize your teen's feelings about his date. If he has opened up to you about his dating life, listen and try to remember how important and challenging high school was when you were a teen. Although your daughter may or may not remember a grade nine crush or heartache five years from now, her feelings and thoughts are very real to her in the present moment.

For younger teens, dating is usually about status, exploring sexuality, and friendship. Older teens usually date because they want emotional intimacy, support and companionship.

If your teen is gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning his or her sexual orientation, be supportive by listening to her thoughts and questions. Let her know that you support her decisions and will be there to help her find her way. There are many great resources in Manitoba for teens, parents and family members. If your teen tells you she is bisexual, be honoured that she felt comfortable and safe to share her news with you. Many teens have a difficult time "coming out" or sharing their sexual orientation to their parents. Just by telling you, she is showing you that she knows you love her unconditionally and will always be there for her. For some teens, coming out is a joyous, celebratory occasion. For others, it is bitter sweet as they may not know how family and friends will treat them. Tell your teen that you are there for her – no matter what others may think or say.

Dating for gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning youth can be more challenging as partners may not have come out yet or they may be worried about being bullied or being discriminated against. Finding support groups and gay-positive organizations with your teen may increase his or her positive relationship experiences.

If you think your teen might be gay but he hasn't said anything to you about his sexuality, be patient. He will tell you, if there is anything to tell, when he is ready. If you are having a hard time with your teen's coming out, it's okay. Sometimes when we have children we imagine how their lives will be when they are older and when things turn out differently we can have a difficult time adjusting. Know that the adjustment period may take some time, as you have to let go of the image you had in mind for your child. Remember that your teen needs to know you love him, always.

Family

Many families spend countless hours running to and from extracurricular activities like soccer practice, dance class, and football club because we want our teens to be involved. In fact, lots of experts say the way to keep our teens safe and healthy is to keep them busy. Other times we hear experts say that families are over-scheduled and don't spend enough time eating or relaxing together. So what do we do?

First, take a deep breath. Almost everyone is really busy in today's world so you aren't the only parent worried about this. The great news is that you can control how much time is spent outside of the home. You can decide how much after-school activity is okay for your family! Just try not to overlook the importance of family time.

If you can't remember the last time your family was together doing something fun, it may be time to make an effort! Family dinners, watching a movie, walking the dog, playing a board game – activities don't have to be expensive or planned in advance. If your teen has many activities outside the home, you might have to schedule a night or afternoon together. Writing it on your calendar may be a good reminder and make it easier to ensure you spend the time together.

Secondly, what about you? Are you taking time for yourself? When do you squeeze in 30 minutes of exercise a day or read a magazine? We should remember that our children watch us and learn from what we do, not what we say. If your teen only sees you driving from one event to another, she may believe that being a mom means being run ragged. She will learn it isn't important to slow down and take time to relax and be together as a family.

Be resourceful and creative! There are ways you can reduce your time running and increase the time you spend together as a family. Perhaps each child will have a set limit of activities during the week or maybe your teen can drive to practice. Perhaps look to other parents to carpool.

It's a good idea to talk with your family members about their time. Suggest a weekly tradition: Thursday night supper or Wednesday video-game tournaments. Create a list together of possible activities and decide as a family which ones you would like to try that month. Including new activities helps keep everyone interested and excited to spend time together. Your teen may complain about spending time with his family instead of hanging out with friends, but if you get his input on the activities, he will be more likely to enjoy the time you spend together.

Just remember this: you are not a bad parent if you limit your teen's after-school activities; you are not a bad parent for wanting your family together more often; and your teen will not suffer from spending time with family instead of hanging out with friends for an evening.

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