Teaching Healthy Dating

healthy datingBeing a teen in foster care is tough for a truckload or two of reasons. You’re living in a place away from your family, who you may weirdly want to go back to even though they may have hurt you. You’re in that transition from kid to adult, trying to get yourself figured out. As as a teen in foster care, when I looked ahead I was scared. I really wanted someone to care for me. Fortunately there were a few adults around that did care for me but at the time I didn’t trust pretty much any adult. It was hard for me to trust or understand why someone, especially someone who wasn’t my family, would even have a reason to care about me. One thing I did understand (at least I thought so at the time) was relationships concerned to dating. What I didn’t understand at the time is healthy dating.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in foster care or not, we all know that as most teenagers get older the more interested they are in dating. I think it’s also safe to say that how we treat the other person and interact in that relationship is taught to us as children. Now I know that foster kids aren’t the only ones that have gone through or seen negative things, but I guarantee 100% of foster kids have either been taken from a relationship they thought was good, have seen bad relationships and/or  has been hurt by someone who they love and was supposed to love them unconditionally. If abuse, yelling, fighting, and arguing is all you have seen from the relationship of your parents than most likely it will be first instinct to have some of those same behaviors. This can go other ways as well. Some foster kids have lost parents and seek that love. Other foster kids  have been put on the back burner by their parents for other relationships or may have been abused in several different ways by the ones that were supposed to teach these children how to have relationships. Their way of coping maybe trying to find love. They are used by people who they think love them, going from relationship to relationship searching.

Bad relationship skills don’t just happen and are a learned trait. People just don’t grow up and one day think it’s ok to hit their significant other. People just don’t grow up to be controlling, abusive or mean; they were taught to be that way. Often we also lose ourselves too much in the one inflicting the abuse in the relationship and lose focus on the one that’s abused. Not only do those abused sometimes turn into abusers themselves, they also may learn about being a victim. Too many people in abusive relationships think that whats going on is ok or believe they deserve it. Even though if you were to ask ANYONE whether abuser, victim or neither “Is abuse wrong” and every one of them would say “yes”, the cycle abuse still continues in many dating relationships. Foster kids need to be shown that what they’ve seen many  times over in relationships this isn’t they way things should go. Often it means being re-taught how to treat people and how to respect yourself.

In the foster care group home that I lived in there were many rules in place to help with healthy dating for teenagers. At the time I thought they were annoying and embarrassing. Looking back, especially now that I’m siting in the parents seat, they were pretty acceptable and in fact necessary. Some of the rules I can remember are being a certain age to date, having to live there a certain length of time, they had to meet them before you go anywhere with them and you have to be supervised or in a group. I had to let them know what I was doing and where I was going. When I had a girl come over there were rules as well. We weren’t really allowed to touch, no P.D.A. or sitting on laps or under blankets. What could sometimes be embarrassing was when something innocent in mind happens and is corrected. Most teens aren’t used to rules that are so strict or strictly enforced. Innocently someone can sit on your lap or share a blanket with you. The truth is though this needed to happen. There needed to be safe boundaries not only because I was a foster kid, but because I was a teenage kid as well.

Too many teenagers, foster kids or not, make life changing mistakes when it comes to dating. They think about the past and the now more than a future. The emotional damage can be prevented for teens that are definitely not ready for the consequences of their actions.  It’s important for foster kids to see and often be re-taught how to have healthy dating relationships. There are also too many foster kids that grow up and continue the cycle of what they experienced in their own dating, marriages and relationships. Which then continues another cycle that their children see. It’s up to us as foster parents to set boundaries and teach kids in our care how to treat others, to help them learn how to have healthier relationships and break the cycle.

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