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Supporting teenagers through relationships

UK charity Brook and NCA-CEOP's Digital Romance research project spoke to over 2,000 young people about the use of technology in their love lives. Here is NCA-CEOP's expert advice on how parents can support teenagers through romantic relationships.

For many parents it can feel like their children’s use of technology is constant and excessive. However, for young people, this is the established norm and an expectation.

62% of the young people surveyed said they liked to hear from a partner every few hours or more. The research also found that even though the frequency of communication was high, boys still struggled to talk about a range of issues such as; things that were worrying them, what they would like from a relationship and also taking the steps to sort out an argument. This leaves an opportunity for parents to help support boys to talk more about their feelings and to be more communicative in relationships.

Sam’s quote below illustrates how attachment and bonds can be built up through technology and how important this is to young people when developing trust and closeness.

ʻI feel like it’s easier to get a relationship for the younger generation than the older ones… if you can speak to somebody all day [by message] and, like, have deep conversations, funny conversations, you sort of, get attached to someone easier.ʼ

(Sam, 14, interview participant)

Break-ups and technology

One of the key areas of the report that showed where young people were really struggling was during the break-up phase. There were a number of harmful practices using technology that young people had to contend with such as: checking up on an ex several times a day using phone/apps, having sexual images being sent on to others, experiencing verbal abuse and having nasty comments spread across friendship groups.

As we know, at any stage in life breaking up is emotionally difficult. However, technology can freeze emotional moments in time, which can add to the difficulty in moving on. As parents, having an understanding of the varying ways that your teenager could be affected by the involvement of friends and technology in a break-up can help when trying to support them.

Three ways parents can help

1. Form close bonds

The research highlights where there are close parent-child bonds, parents are seen as the central source of support and knowledge by their children. This helps teens feel like they can tell their parents if they are unsure or worried about a relationship or someone they are getting to know. Throughout the research many young people highlighted the positive role that their parents played in their lives and relationships. A number of young people described their parents as influential role models and the people they turn to for support and advice.

ʻThere must be some nice boys, but I’ve always wanted someone who, like, respects people, like my dad.ʼ

(Rosie, 15, interview participant)

2. Share your learnings

Young people really believed in the benefit of parents sharing their own good and bad experiences and wanted them to talk to their teenage children about their own lives and what they had learnt about relationships. Young people spoke of wanting to hear hypothetical guidance so criticisms about their parents' relationship and the choices teenagers had made could be kept separate.

3. Be non-judgemental

When it came to things that young people found to be unhelpful, some young people described experiences where judgement and lack of support from parents had considerably contributed to difficulties and led them to feel that they had no one to talk to.  An example of this came from Tyler:

ʻWhat I would be afraid of if I told my mum is that my mum would get ashamed of me and all that. And like, some parents take it really hard and might even disown you.ʼ

(Tyler, 12, focus group participant)

Particularly when it came to making mistakes or doing things they knew their parents might not approve of, the judgement from their parents became a barrier to seeking help if things did go wrong. As parents, taking an interest in how technology is impacting your teenager’s relationship is enough to start a conversation. In addition, being non-judgemental can help children learn from their mistakes and create a more open environment for teenagers to seek help.

For educational sources of information about sex and relationships to help support your conversations visit:

Brook charity

Think U Know

Read the full Digital Romance report here

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP

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