“I talk to her like that because I thought it was normal. That’s how all my friends talk to their girls. It’s not like I hit her or anything.”
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
What does that mean to a teenager? So many of the teens and youth we encounter are unaware of what entirely encompasses teen dating violence. “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month” in itself implies a physical aspect, which for many teens, is absent in their relationships. How do we, as advocates, anticipate the needs, feelings, and experiences of a young person and address them in ways that meet them where they are, without judgment or assumption?
For us, it means sitting down and talking to youth, listening to their stories, validating their experiences, and asking what a healthy relationship looks like to them. It’s taking the time to unpack and name unhealthy relationship dynamics and helping them learn and replace unhealthy habits with healthy and respectful ones.
Most recently, Radiant Futures had the opportunity to work with a group of teenage boys, many of whom had no idea what intimate partner violence was. They shared with the group that they themselves had come from violent homes, but stopped short of exhibiting violence in their own relationships or naming their own behaviors as “abusive.” As the conversations through the weeks progressed, they began to recognize red flags and even call out ways they used power and control with their partners.
We showed up every week with a new question for the group: What are healthy boundaries? How can you express your emotions in a safe way? How do you show love and respect to your partner?
Soon, the conversations changed.
“How can I show my girlfriend more respect?”
“I want to learn how to communicate better when I’m angry.”
“I just thought that was how to show love, but now I see how I was wrong.”
Teen dating violence, much like domestic violence, has a variety of different ways it displays itself in a relationship. For youth, who already have so many people trying to direct and guide them, asking them personal questions about their intimate relationships may push them further away.
If as a community we care about future generations and the health of our youth, we have to push to continue the conversation. Whether that conversation is uncomfortable or met with resistance, it is imperative that we not only talk to teens, but more importantly, listen. What they tell us is important. The role we play in their lives is significant and impactful. The earlier we start the conversation, the more awareness we bring to the lives of our teens and the better resources they have to create their own healthy relationships.
Want to help a teen in your community? Reach out to Radiant Futures for resources and information on our services that support the health and safety of our youth.