Encouraging Healthy Teen Relationships

Engage with the West Michigan Woman Community!

As children become teenagers, parents are often on the lookout for signs of unhealthy or toxic relationships in their teen's life.

In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, Wedgwood Christian Services is offering tips for parents and teens on recognizing red flags and encouraging healthy relationships.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in three teens report experiencing dating violence and 43% of college students report experiencing violent or abusive behaviors in relationships—horrific statistics.

For over 20 years, Wedgwood's Positive Youth Development (PYD) team has been providing programming for students to help them recognize and develop healthy relationships. Through grant and donor-funded programs, Wedgwood's PYD educates 5th – 12th grade students on topics such as good and bad friendships, healthy relationships, consent, break-ups, and what to do if you are in a toxic or unhealthy relationship.

"An important reminder we tell our students is that healthy relationships take time to build," said Gina Boscarino, Group Specialist for Wedgwood's PYD and Teen CHARGE. "Knowing what is normal, and what is not, empowers youth to make smarter choices when it comes to friends, social situations and romantic relationships."

According to love is respect, common types of abuse include physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, digital, and stalking. There are several signs which could indicate that a teen is an unhealthy relationship and could be experiencing dating violence:

  • An uneven distribution of power or control, one partner having greater control over the other, due to things such as age, popularity, or physical size.
  • A pattern or continued use of controlling behavior by one partner over the other.
  • Isolating from friends and family, intimidation, coercion and threats, and emotional abuse.
  • An insistence on wanting to get physical too fast or emotionally intimate right away.

Cell phones and social media also play a big role in dating violence for teens.

"Sexting is unfortunately quite common. These messages can be used to manipulate, intimidate, or shame someone," said Boscarino. "We also notice that social media increases levels of mistrust, which in unhealthy relationships can mean demanding to go through or have access to a partners phone or social media accounts. Kids don't realize they can say no and are entitled to their privacy—even within a romantic relationship."

Parents can also keep communication lines open with kids, supervise and set clear boundaries for things like social media presence, and when and where kids can hang out with friends or romantic partners, and remind kids of their "Relationship Rights"—like the right to be treated with respect and to say "no" at any time.

"A great way to start conversations about healthy relationships is to talk about the relationships teens see portrayed in their favorite shows or movies," said Boscarino. "There are lots of examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships—ask kids what they are noticing about the relationships."

The pandemic has also undoubtedly added a new set of obstacles.

"The challenges of isolation, stress, and financial strain being faced by survivors during this pandemic also extends to teens young adults, and we anticipate there will be long-term effects on their health and safety," said Angela Lee, Director of love is respect. "Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month offers a significant opportunity to create awareness around abuse, particularly during a time that is acutely challenging for survivors."

If there is concern about a relationship, teens should reach out to a safe adult—like a parent, teacher or mentor. Parents can reach out to network180 for emergency help.

Wedgwood offers help for teens and families through prevention programing and counseling services. To learn more, email [email protected].

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.


More stories you'll love