You never forget your first love. Maybe you were holding hands with your first significant other at the tender age of 14, or maybe you didn’t have any romantic entanglements until after high school graduation. Regardless of your age at the time, your first exposure to dating had a lasting effect on how you view love, sex, and relationships.

If you have a teen daughter, you want to make sure that she has a healthy approach to dating. However, things have likely changed quite a bit on the dating scene since your first love. These days, social media, pornography, instant digital access to anyone, and blurred relationship lines make it difficult for your teen daughter to navigate through romance.

Now more than ever, she needs your guidance, but because it is so radically different than your experience, you may be at a loss for how to help her. To aid you in having these difficult conversations, we have composed a list of tips for talking to your teenager about dating.

Confront Your Own Demons

Before you talk to your teenage daughter about relationships and sex, it’s essential that you address your own hangups. Regardless of age, sex can be a loaded topic. Spend some time reflecting on your own relationship with romance, sex, and intimacy so that you don’t project these issues onto your daughter.

Your children respond to your emotions. If they pick up on anxiety or fear, they will shut down as to not upset you. Addressing your own emotional needs beforehand ensures that you can talk about these issues with a level head and without judgment.

Open the Door for Conversation

You are the single most important participant in your child’s sex education. This doesn’t mean that you have to sit down and have “the talk” — in fact, this should be an ongoing discussion that lasts for years to come. Instead, look for natural windows of opportunity in conversations about your daughter’s life.

For example, if you are watching a show with a sexual storyline, use it as an opportunity to talk to your daughter about how it makes her feel. You don’t have to ask direct questions — in fact, this will likely shut down the conversation. Instead, try general questions about her friends and whether or not their dating, or if she is aware what verbal or emotional abuse is. She might roll her eyes and pretend she isn’t listening, but don’t let this stop you from talking openly about these issues. Even if she doesn’t appear to hear you, she does.

Teach About Consent

These days, there are dozens of ways a teen girl can be sexually pressured, such as being asked to send a nude picture over Snapchat to physical assault. It’s imperative that you teach your teen daughter that she always has the option to say “no” to something she is not comfortable with. It doesn’t matter whether all the other kids are doing it, she really cares about the person, or she said “yes” before — if she doesn’t feel sure about an activity, it is always within her rights to say “no.” Let her know that if she is ever in a situation where someone does not respect her wishes, it’s important to get out of that environment as soon as possible, and that she can always call or text you for help.

Describe Dating as a “Learning Experience”

When your daughter enters her first relationship, she is likely to feel an incredible surge of new emotions. This might make her put a lot of her self-worth and attention into the success of this relationship. Yet as we all know, most high school sweethearts don’t last. Teach your daughter that dating is an experiment in which you can find out what you like, what you don’t like, how to get what you want out of a relationship and what to give, and how to be okay regardless of whether it lasts or not. This way, if the relationship feels unbalanced, stressful, or not fun anymore, it’s much easier to let go of that person and move on if she isn’t focused on this person being “the love of her life.”

At New Transitions Counseling, we offer girls group, which is a support group for teen girls to help them navigate relationship building, receive emotional support, and improve self-esteem, among other important life skills. If you’re interested in having your teen daughter join our group, or to come see one of our individual therapists for child counseling, we would love to help. Contact our therapists in Palatine today!