With summer in the air, teen romances may not be far behind, so we asked Heather Flies for some advice for teens (and parents) about healthy dating relationships.
Flies is fully immersed in the world of teenagers, though she does not have children of her own. For the past 15 years, Flies has been the junior-high pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie and frequently gives both local and national presentations to students in public middle schools and high schools on a variety of topics including dating, self-esteem, stress, media influences and abstinence.
Flies, 37, is not afraid to speak her mind to teens about relationships and they will do the same with her. "I'm not the one who has to nag them to do their homework. I hear things from them that I know they don't talk to their parents about," she said.
Q What do parents need to understand about how a teen's social life is different from when the parents were in high school?
A There is absolutely no way that parents can say they know exactly what their teens are going through in terms of their social lives today. For example, we had to pull a phone cord as far as it could reach into a closet to have a private conversation and we always had limits on how long we could use the phone. For today's teens, texting constitutes a conversation that can last for hours.
I'm a big believer in parents bringing the teen's cell phone into their own room to charge it overnight. If kids have unlimited access to their phone, they can easily be drawn into intimate conversations they might not necessarily be planning to have.
Q What are the biggest concerns teens have about dating relationships? What are some of the challenges they face?
A One thing that hasn't changed from their parents' youth is that teenagers just really want to be liked, and they want to find someone who can make them feel good about themselves. I talk to a lot of middle-school kids; I always tell them they have a lot to offer, so they should be comfortable in their own skin instead of looking to someone else to validate who they are.
In dating relationships, it is really important for teens to know in their heads and in their hearts what their physical boundaries are in terms of how far they are willing to take the relationship and to communicate that to the other person -- not via text or Facebook, but in person, in a conversation. It doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out discussion, but it needs to be said.
Q How can parents support their teen's dating relationship but monitor it at the same time?
A As soon as your teen starts to date someone, you've got to get that kid around the family as quickly as possible. If you have a daughter, the new boyfriend needs to see her as part of a whole family unit and not just as an individual.
Once he gets to know your family, he will feel a sense of accountability to you. It is also an opportunity for parents to have conversations about what their expectations are. If your teen is dating someone who never comes around or seems uncomfortable spending time with your family, it is hard for a parent to trust that relationship.
Q What are some red flags parents should watch for in their teen's relationship?
A A healthy teenage relationship should be part of a teen's life, not all of his life, so if it seems to be becoming all-consuming or if other friendships are falling by the wayside, it is probably not healthy. Other signs might be a pattern of deceit, wanting to spend more time in his room behind closed doors, or seeming more tired than usual. If he's on Facebook or texting late at night, that could be causing him to be tired.
Q What can parents do to help their teens foster those healthy dating relationships?
A Parents have to be willing to have conversations with their kids about more than just homework. The earlier you start talking about subjects like dating, sex and abstinence, the more normal it will be for them to be willing to listen. I'm a big fan of conversations in the car -- no distractions. Offer them reminders about what is important within the boundaries of faith and morality for your family.
When children are little, parents do as much as they can to care for them. Even though they are teenagers, they aren't adults. They still need to know you will be there to answer questions -- and ask them.
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer. Have an idea for the Your Family page? E-mail us at email@example.com with "Your Family" in the subject line.