Dating Deal Breakers

Today, I'm featuring a guest writer. Her name is Kelsey Misbrener and she is a writer and editor from Ohio who's here to discuss the importance of speaking to teens about dating deal breakers. One of the most important parts of my sex education classes focuses on helping my students define healthy and unhealthy relationships. For many of them, it is the first time they're asked specifically to think about their own boundaries, as well as their relationship goals.


Kelsey Misbrener writes:

Deal breakers are boundaries people establish to protect themselves from harm and help them choose romantic partners that fit their needs. Because of the lack of comprehensive sex education, many adults go through life without ever setting boundaries for romantic relationships or otherwise, then find themselves in confusing, potentially dangerous situations.

People and relationships change over time, so deal breakers can, too. Therefore, it is really important to model the process of figuring out relationship boundaries while also leaving room for future change, e.g. a tall teenager decides not to date anyone taller than they are, then relaxes that stance years later as an adult. However, deal breakers concerning physical and emotional safety—like avoiding love interests who do drugs or don’t respect consent—should be adhered to in order to avoid unhealthy relationships.

Parents can and should teach children about boundaries early on and speak frankly about romantic deal breakers when young people start dating. There are several ways you can do this:

  • Highlight examples of healthy relationships at home, in the community, or on television and talk about why they are healthy.
  • Instill bodily autonomy and consent in your child early on. That means avoiding forcing children to give everyone hugs as well as teaching them to focus on comfort and safety over good manners. Make sure your child knows they can say no to any physical contact that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Teach them about boundaries and expectations, and explicitly define physical, mental and emotional abuse. Also teach them the hallmarks of good relationships and bad ones, and the signs of abusive partners, which includes controlling behaviors like jealousy and pressure regarding sex.
  • Make sure they know deal breakers apply to the digital sphere too. Consent and respect will flow from real life (IRL) to online life in good partners.
  • Support their boundaries and deal breakers, which can include anything from work ethic and motivation to tattoos and piercings.
  • Encourage open communication so the young person feels comfortable approaching you with questions as they build and adapt deal breakers.

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