It is no secret that families can be damaging in modeling what a healthy relationship looks like, and our culture can be detrimental in teaching what a healthy relationship does and does not entail. This is one reason why, in my years of counseling and teaching healthy relationships classes, I have observed a magnified need for knowledge of healthy relationship tools, and teen moms are no exception.
Teen moms assert a new level of need when it comes to understanding relationships. For example, their child may create a bond with a person who must be removed from their life, such as a significant other who is emotionally harmful or even physically dangerous. Teen moms often need guidance and counsel on how to navigate the situation. Furthermore, when the teen mom decides to pursue another relationship, she is often unclear how to proceed in a healthy manner.
The question is how to best help them with this navigation process. It is obvious that teen moms need to have an underlying foundation of a good understanding of their own worth when teaching them about healthy relationships. However it is also vital that they develop a sense of the importance regarding their safety, a disassociated mind regarding romanticized culture, and a solid idea of what character traits to watch out for in others.
Teaching teen moms to be safe in the ever-changing world of online and app dating is a priority in our classes. It is so tempting for a lonely or fragile teen mom to pick up her phone and utilize a match-up app, and statistics say that 10% of sex offenders use dating websites to meet people.
In my healthy relationship classes, I emphasize some basic online dating safety steps such as telling a friend their plans, meeting the person at the destination, not riding in the other person’s car, not sharing where they live, not sharing pictures of their kids, and not bringing their kids along. I also use accountability with them and ask them follow-up questions when I know they are involved with someone they haven’t met yet.
I have built into my healthy relationships curriculum a review of the dangerous misconceptions the media places on relationships. Studies have found that movies often leave women believing that their partner should know what they need without communicating it. We talk in depth about the need to communicate expectations with the people in their lives. Furthermore, movies also tend to indicate that soul mates are predestined and that a relationship will be romantic and just “fall into place” — and that casual sex is as normal as having a cup of coffee with someone. Instead, we talk about the work that relationships take and what realistic expectations look like while also discussing the emotional and physical dangers of casual sex.
The feedback I receive in my classes is that teaching about red flags makes the most impact on our teen moms. In addition to having the girls write out qualities they want in a partner, I also teach them flags that indicate when something needs to be questioned or otherwise validated. To help them in this process, they each create their own “red flag wheel.”
The process is interesting. Some girls frequently find themselves drawn to the same negative qualities in a partner and will put that quality multiple times on their wheel. Some girls didn’t have healthy relationships modeled to them in their home growing up and thus have no baseline for what a healthy relationship looks like.
Daphne, for example, found herself meeting boyfriends at bus stops and was unaware that it isn’t normal for a boyfriend to regularly take household supplies from her house — or make himself so much at home that he wasn’t leaving when she asked.
Daphne says, “Red flags have taught me to be more aware of the good and bad qualities in a man. I love red flags because they help me to ask, ‘Is this relationship a healthy one or a relationship that I need to stay away from?’ I use red flags whenever I feel that light bulb going off in my head, especially when getting into a new relationship. I make a list of all the red flags that might make dating more complicated down the road.” Daphne has even been known to pull out her red flag wheel on a date and reference it!
I continually remind our teen moms that a red flag does not necessarily mean the relationship is bad; instead it means they should slow down, investigate, and see if the person is a good fit or not. For a list of the red flags our girls have compiled over the years, click here.
Helping teen moms navigate relationships alongside the web of messages they receive from media, technology, peers, and family can be daunting. It is important to come alongside them and empower them through relevant teaching so they can successfully break the cycle and provide positive examples for their own children.