Hello! Our names are Maya and Abby, and we are a junior and senior in high school, respectively. We are this year’s Peer Leadership Fellows with TeenSafe, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS) that recruits teens to engage the Jewish community about dating abuse awareness.  

TeenSafe is recognizing Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month to acknowledge the realities of teen dating in today’s world.  

Educating teens about dating abuse and healthy relationship dynamics helps interrupt and prevent the patterns of unhealthy behaviors in relationships from the beginning. By emphasizing the importance of communication, boundaries, and respect within various types of relationships, from familial to romantic to coach/teammate, teens learn the skills to maintain and build positive relationships.  

We’ve put together some helpful tips to support the teens in your life and their relationships.

Maya Loewenberg and Abby Mahr
Maya Loewenberg and Abby Mahr (Courtesy: TeenSafe)

How can I communicate with my teen about their relationships without coming across as judgmental, derogatory, or interrogating?   

To encourage healthy communication with your teen, you can: 

  • Create clear boundaries that both you and your teen agree to. 
  • Reassure your teen that these boundaries are not meant for judgment but to create a safe space for honest conversation. 
  • Express gratitude for their willingness to share when discussing their relationships. Avoid prying for every detail, allowing the conversation to flow naturally. This approach encourages them to share more while not feeling pressured. 
  • Demonstrate appreciation for the information they choose to share, emphasizing that you value their trust.  
  • Encourage them to share their feelings (by giving them space) so you can validate their emotions and show how much you value that they are sharing them. 
  • Maintain an open mind during conversations. Respecting your teen’s privacy is key in trust-building.  
  • Remember, building trust takes time but your commitment to your teen’s well-being is important long-term.  

What boundaries should be in place for a high schooler who is dating? 

Depending on a teen’s age and the preferences of their parents, boundaries regarding curfews, when and where the teen can hang out with someone of romantic interest, and asking to meet the person your teen is dating are all appropriate.  

Teens should remember that a relationship is an addition to their life, not their entire life, and it is important to maintain their connections with family, friends, education, and extracurriculars.   

While a teen may want to add another priority to their life, their time spent hanging out with a romantic interest or significant other shouldn’t take away from the time they spend with their friends and family, working on schoolwork, or attending practices, club meetings, and other activities. 

Teen Vocab 101: What’s the difference between talking, hanging out, dating, and hooking up? 

Teens use many different words to communicate various concepts when discussing romantic relationships, so we will start from stage 1: talking. When teens say they are “talking” to someone, this can mean any range from they just began communicating via social media or text, to they have been messaging and/or FaceTiming for months, and anywhere in between. For younger teens, “talking” is typically used to describe an unofficial relationship no matter its duration; with other teens, a “talking stage” indicates the time they spend chatting to get to know one another before hanging out or taking their relationship to the next level.

“Hanging out” means to teens what “dating” meant to their parents. This often indicates they have spent time together in person a few times, or plan on it, and are typically unofficial and not exclusive.

From hanging out, a relationship can go two ways. The first is “hooking up,” which communicates the pair is simply making out (younger teens) or engaging in more intimate activities (older teens). This phrase is vague and does not strictly indicate which level of physical intimacy is occurring, which is why teens use it so much (we love our privacy!). When a pair is hooking up or hanging out, it is up to them to determine whether they are exclusive; neither phrase indicates anything 100%!

The most exclusive type of teen relationship is dating. When two teens are dating, they are exclusive and committed to one another. This is often when healthy and unhealthy relationships and boundaries should be discussed, to ensure your teen knows that it is OK to leave the relationship or set boundaries as needed.

What resources can I share with my teen if they want additional support? 

One of the first steps is to acknowledge and appreciate that your teen felt safe and comfortable enough to ask for help. Remind your teen that you are always there for them, but also understand that there may be times when they want or need to turn to other forms of support. Kids and adults alike can benefit from feeling supported by multiple trusted people! 

For teen-specific support around dating abuse, teens can contact Love is Respect by calling 866-331-9474, chatting live with a trained professional on loveisrespect.org, or texting LOVEIS to 22522. For additional support around dating abuse, you or your teen can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, 24/7.

In addition to resources related to teen dating abuse, there are also more general mental health resources. The Crisis Text Line (text “HELLO” to 741741) is specifically designed for kids/teens in times of need. Reminding your teen that resources like these are confidential might also ease some worries.

Ask your teen if they are looking and hoping for more long-term support, which could include getting your teen a therapist. Mental Health Connect is a free, confidential information and referral service at JF&CS. Call 781-693-5562 or email mentalhealth@jfcsboston.org to speak with a JF&CS mental health professional who will take the time to understand your situation and connect you with expert advice and appropriate resources, including matches to therapists.

Finally, teens may benefit from online communities where they can connect with people their age who are experiencing or have experienced similar hardships. Resources for an online community are platforms like TeenLine or Teen Forums.

Thanks for reading, and we hope this can be a helpful resource!  

JF&CS TeenSafe is partnering with CJP’s Jewish Teen Initiative to engage more teens in educating our community about how to identify unhealthy behaviors in relationships and seek help when needed. Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is spearheaded by Love Is Respect, a national resource for dating abuse prevention. Throughout the month, TeenSafe Peer Leadership Fellows will speak on important topics relating to teen dating abuse and healthy relationships through blog posts and Instagram posts. Please follow @teenSafe_jfcs on Instagram.  

Abby Mahr is a senior at Westborough High School and has been a TeenSafe Peer Leader for the past three years. She is passionate about engaging our community’s youth in conversations surrounding healthy relationships and self-advocacy. 

Maya Loewenberg attends Gann Academy and is in her junior year. She originally got involved with TeenSafe to learn more about what teen dating abuse is and is now passionate about educating teens on the importance of healthy relationships.

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