Raising daughters in their preteen years is no easy task. Our daughters are growing up faster than ever. They are becoming more and more independent and have access to information and media that we didn’t have as kids. When it comes to helping them understand what a healthy relationship looks like, parents have it easier said than done. The faster our kids mature, the more likely we are to miss opportunities to help them develop the skills to be able to identify loving and respectful relationships. You may not even want your daughter to date until she’s out of the house, but the unfortunate reality is that even if she isn’t, her friends probably are. And if she is dating, the most important thing you can do as a parent is help her to understand what a healthy relationship looks like.

Starting a Dialogue

It’s never easy to talk to your daughter about things like peer pressure, drinking, sex, drugs, and relationships. But as a parent, you have an obligation to keep the communication channels open. You and your daughter will need to be able to talk about difficult issues. Moreover, you shouldn’t wait for her to come to you with problems. By then it may be too late. Instead, raise the subject with her by bringing in TV shows, movies, and music videos that she watches. Always let her know that her questions or comments are valid and don’t laugh at her or reprimand her. The last thing you want is to make her feel like she’s being judged for talking to you. Ensure that your ideas and message are clear. Remember that she’s a child so you may have to talk on her level. Finally, you need to ensure that you talk often. Once is not enough. Talking often will send your daughter the message that you are interested in her life. Encourage your daughter to come to other family members and role models of hers with questions as well.

Defining Healthy Relationships

As your daughter grows up, it’s critical to help her identify and understand the qualities of healthy relationships. While domestic violence can happen to anyone-men included-there are some signs that can appear early on in a dating relationship. Healthy relationships are ones where both partners are on equal footing. Communication is open and honest and both partners have a say in decision making. An unhealthy relationship, on the other hand, occurs when power in the relationship is skewed. One partner has control over the other and uses emotional, physical, sexual or financial abuse or threats to maintain that power. An unhealthy relationship can escalate to include coercion, stalking, isolation from friends and family, name-calling, insults, or withholding of money or food. While you don’t need to scare your daughter, help her to understand that these behaviors are not part of a healthy relationship.

Although you may not even want to think about your daughter dating at this point, the preteen years are the best time to start conversations about healthy relationships. Use examples from the books, films, TV shows, or music videos that your daughter watches to start a dialogue. Talk frequently so that your daughter feels comfortable coming to you with questions.