According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 high school students have experienced physical violence from a dating partner in the past year. The statistic is staggering and underscores the need for parents, teachers, and trusted adults to talk about healthy relationships and dating violence with the teens in their lives.
Starting a conversation about healthy dating relationships
It can be difficult to engage teenagers in meaningful conversation and extract more than one-word answers from them. But the truth is, they want and need connections to the trusted adults in their lives. One of the most important conversations to have is around healthy relationships and what to look for in a dating partner. So how do you start this important conversation and engage them in it? Read on for talking points to help facilitate a conversation.
- Talk about what makes a healthy relationship. “What qualities do you look for in a dating partner?” Teens can get hung up on looks, common interests, and social status, but it’s important they understand that all healthy relationships should have respect, communication, trust, boundaries, honesty, and equality.
- Talk about different scenarios they may not initially see as unhealthy. “Your partner wants you to quit the swim team so you have more time to spend together. What do you think about that?” “Your partner never has enough money to cover their dinner and always leaves you to pay. How would you respond to this situation?” “Your partner knows the restaurant you and your friends are going to tonight and shows up there as well. How do you feel in this situation?”
Starting a conversation about dating abuse
Suspecting a teenager you care about is in an abusive relationship can be scary and difficult, but it’s important teens know they have a safe space to talk and share. Keep these important points in mind from love is respect when starting a dialogue:
- Be supportive and not judgmental of the relationship. “I can see this was difficult to share. Thank you for trusting me. You deserve to be treated with respect in all of your relationships.”
- Validate their feelings, empathize, and create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Believe them. Even if what they are saying is hard for you to hear, it’s important they know you believe them and support them. “I believe you. The behavior you’re describing is concerning and could lead to abuse.”
- Keep your focus on the unhealthy behavior and not the person(s) involved. It is normal for people in unhealthy or abusive relationships to still have feelings for the abuser. “I’m not saying your partner is a bad person, but the behavior you’re describing is not okay.”
- Decide together on next steps. Severing the relationship may not fix the issue when teens attend the same school or are in the same social circles. Engage in a conversation about next steps. “Would switching classes be helpful?” “What do you feel comfortable doing next?” “How can I support you?”
If you or someone you care about is in abusive relationship, please call our 24-hour crisis line at 317.920.9320 to chat with an advocate about your situation and options.