Talking with teenagers about healthy relationships

View resources for adults interested in helping promote healthy romantic and platonic relationships between teens.
An illustration of a group of young people standing together.

Table of Contents

What we can do

Led by the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Human Trafficking, and in partnership with the Executive Office of Health Human Services, the Department of Public Health, and the Massachusetts State Legislature, RESPECTfully aims to promote healthy relationships among youth. 

RESPECTfully is a social norms campaign designed to speak to teens directly with key messages that articulate everyone deserves mutual respect in relationships. Read our campaign overview and visit mass.gov/respectfully to learn more.

Youth-serving individuals and organizations can encourage parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs of unhealthy behaviors, educate teens on what respect looks like, and have clear conversations about consent. Parents, teachers, coaches, and caregivers can help increase the capacity for teens to experience healthy relationships by having open, honest, non-judgmental, and ongoing conversations with them about equitable, healthy, and joyful relationships.

An illustration that reads “What can we do? Help promote healthy relationships.”

Help promote healthy relationships

The early youth and teen years are a critical time for developing relationship standards and skills that will impact their adult relationships. With this in mind, adults supporting young people can help them have healthy relationships in the following ways:

  • Be knowledgeable. Teach your child about the importance of healthy relationships and the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. 
  • Be approachable. Be present and available for your child—remember that children want positive and caring adults in their life. 
  • Be understanding. Be interested in your child’s world; ask about their friends, preferences, and hobbies.
  • Be respectful. Be open and considerate of the things your child is expressing.
  • Model healthy relationships. Your child watches everything that you say and do, good or bad. Communicate self-respect. Encourage your child to feel good about him/ herself. Discuss what they like about themselves.
  • Focus on the positive. Talks about relationships do not have to focus only on negative stuff, talks can also be about positive stuff (e.g., relationships should be fun and fulfilling, supportive)
  • Discuss alternatives for dealing with frustration and anger other than violence.
  • Take advantage of teachable moments. Use relevant, real situations to teach your child about the importance of healthy relationships.

(Source: Parents Matter! For Dating Matters® Parent Handbook | CDC)

Supporting healthy relationships for LGBTQ + youth

LGBTQ+ youth deserve to have safe, healthy, and respectful relationships of all types. Many elements of healthy relationships – like resolving conflicts with respect or having open, honest communication with a partner – are true regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, LGBTQ+ youth can also experience unique challenges in their relationships.

For example, some characteristics of healthy relationships that are unique to LGBTQ+ youth include a partner who:

  • Accepts and supports who they are, including their gender and/or sexual identity
  • Respects their name and gender pronouns
  • Respects boundaries and never threatens to out someone

There are many specific ways you can help support any LGBTQ+ youth as they navigate having safe and healthy relationships. To start, you can support their emotional development by:

  • Talking with them about their LGBTQ+ identity
  • Responding with warmth and care when you learn that they are LGBTQ+
  • Supporting their identity even if you feel uncomfortable
  • Advocating for them when they are mistreated
  • Expecting other family members to respect the LGBTQ+ youth in your family
  • Welcoming their LGBTQ+ friends and partners into your home
  • Supporting their gender expression, including their gender pronouns
  • Helping them access the care they need to support their mental and physical well-being
  • Believing they can have a happy future as an LGBTQ+ adult and telling them that

(Source: Nurturing Healthy, Safe Relationships for LGBTQ+ Youth: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers)

Learn more about the CDC Veto Violence campaign at vetoviolence.cdc.gov.

RESPECTfully campaign resources

Sexual and domestic violence prevention resources

  • Resources for Parents and Teachers, Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness
  • Dating Violence Prevention, Youth.gov
  • Teen Dating Violence, CDC
  • Dating Matters Initiative, CDC
  • The Escalation Workshop, One Love
    The Escalation Workshop is a film-based discussion that opens people’s eyes to the warning signs of relationship abuse. The workshop consists of a film, Escalation, followed by a guided discussion led by a trained facilitator. You can bring Escalation to your school or community.
  • Dating Matters Training: Understanding Teen Dating Violence Prevention, VetoViolence
    The Dating Matters Training helps educators, school personnel, youth leaders, and others working to improve the health of teens. Based on insights from teachers, this online, accredited course uses expert interviews, creative visuals, interactivity, and compelling storytelling to communicate the relevance of teen dating violence prevention to anyone working with youth. This training is designed for anyone interested in learning more about how to stop teen dating violence—before it happens. This training takes approximately 60 minutes to complete.

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