For many of us, our first meaningful relationships happen in our teenage years. Disturbingly, 1 in 3 teens experiencing physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner (that’s 1.5 million high school students nationwide each year) with clearly demonstrated negative long-lasting effects. It is essential that organizations like Safe Passage and caring adults in the community work to equip the youth in our lives with the skills and ability to foster loving and respectful relationships and disrupt cycles of unhealthy or violent behavior.
We know that youth benefit from having positive, trusting relationships with adults. But only 33% of teens who experienced abuse in their relationship ever told anyone about it. When an overwhelming majority of parents (over 80%) don’t believe dating violence is an issue, it is easy to see why teens may feel unable to share their experiences and seek support.
The good news is: we all have the ability to support the young people in our lives in building safe, healthy, and loving relationships.
As adults, we can model and uphold healthy relationships in our own lives. We can be available to listen and learn from youth as we support them in developing and maintaining healthy relationship practices. We can know how to recognize warning signs of abuse and proactively check in with the young people in our lives. And we can be prepared to non-judgmentally listen and provide support and resources if a teen shares with us about unhealthy or abusive behaviors they are experiencing or enacting — whether that be in their friendships or romantic and/or sexual relationships.
At Safe Passage, our mission is to end domestic violence and relationship abuse. And youth are integral allies in this work. That is why our newest prevention effort, the Say Something Youth Initiative, is a partnership with Easthampton High School and Community Action Youth Programs to bring Say Something LABs to 9th and 10th graders — and offer opportunities for all students, faculty, and caregivers to get involved in culture change to support healthy relationships.
Our youth programming has an emphasis on helping teens build the leadership skills and confidence to be able to recognize, interrupt, and prevent interpersonal violence when they witness it in their school community and in their daily lives.
Our team has been working diligently over the last year to reimagine this work in light of all the demands on students and difficulties due to the pandemic. We are avid in our commitment to incorporate student leadership, build trusting relationships, and offer tools, resources, opportunities to learn and increase skills for youth and adults in the Easthampton High community towards our shared vision of a culture of safety, respect, and positive relationships.
If you are interested in joining our efforts to reduce teen dating violence and promote healthy relationships, here are some great tips, tools, and resources to help.
- Increase your own skills at recognizing, interrupting, and preventing interpersonal violence by joining our community Say Something LABs. For more information about upcoming virtual trainings, visit the Say Something Website.
- Support young people in creating a safety plan for the first (few) date(s). Identify a person — a caregiver or trusted friend (if it’s a friend, they should have a caregiver’s number) — and share details about the person and date. Also discuss an ‘escape plan’ so your teen knows what to do if they feel uncomfortable on the date.
- Talk to the teens in your life about relationships and be open and available for questions and support.
How to talk to teens about relationships:
- This shouldn’t be just one conversation. Have ongoing, non-judgmental talks using open ended questions. Let them know you’re willing (and happy) to talk anytime.
- Use media to support your continued conversations, learn from the lived experiences of others, and discuss what to do in specific situations.
- Discuss warning signs of unhealthy and abusive relationships.
- Understand how relationships look different (or the same) for teens. Learn about social media platforms and how technology and social media factor into healthy and unhealthy behaviors in teen relationships.
- Talk with them about dating safety.
Know the resources for teens (and adults supporting teens):
- Love Is Respect has resources for youth to seek support and learn about healthy relationships.
- Text “LOVEIS” to 22522 to speak to an advocate or chat live at www.loveisrespect.org.Whether you’re concerned about your relationship, or if you have questions about how to date, support is available 24/7.
- Quizzes help teens assess the health of their relationship and understand digital abuse and sexuality.
- Because LBGTQ youth are more likely to experience dating abuse and often face barriers to seeking support. Love is Respect offers information about LBGTQ+ dating abuse and is available to support youth of all genders and sexualities on their chat line and hotline.
- RESPECTfully is a Massachusetts campaign with resources, videos, and tools to help teens establish healthy relationships and adults who want to support the young people in their lives.
- The Say Something Youth Initiative offers programming at Easthampton High School with opportunities for students to take leadership roles in shaping their school community and find resources if they need help.