Supporting Healthy Dating Relationships for Young People: Part One
Natalie Stigall, Education and Outreach Specialist
We have some terrible news for you: at some point in the near or maybe very distant future, a young person you care about might start dating.
Scary, right? But, then again, it’s also pretty exciting. Intimate relationships can be a special and significant part of a person’s life, and for teens and young adults who are learning about themselves and how they want to engage with the world, exploring relationships through dating is totally healthy. As adult influencers, our fear comes from our desire to keep those young people safe, and that’s normal, too. So how can we walk that line of letting young people have those amazing, first dating experiences in all their (awkward) glory and do our best to prevent harm or abuse from miring those relationships?
In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, we’re sharing some suggestions on how to support your young person in forming safe and healthy intimate relationships. And this work begins way before they start showing interest in dating. Here are some tips for engaging with kids and young teens who are maybe a little too young to be thinking or talking about dating just yet.
- Talk to them about healthy relationships—right now!
It’s never too early to talk to young people about healthy relationships. And not just about dating! Everyone deserves to have healthy friendships, and a good friendship can often serve as a model for future romantic partnerships. Does your young person know what they want out of a relationship? What their rights and limits are? Talk with them, not just about red flags of abuse, but also about important qualities of healthy relationships, like boundaries, communication, equality, and self-esteem. You can also strike up a conversation with your young person about the qualities of the relationships they see in media.
- Model safe and healthy relationships
Young people learn a lot from watching adults in their lives, so a great way to introduce them to healthy relationships is to model one! This could be through your interactions with a romantic partner, a co-parent, friends, or even through your relationship with the young person themselves. When young people see and experience an adult practicing respect, boundary-setting, mutuality, and support in their lives, they are taking in all kinds of positive messages about relationships.
It’s important to note: if you are not in a healthy relationship, it is not your fault and it doesn’t mean the young people in your life can’t have healthy partnerships of their own. To talk to one of our advocates about your experiences, call us at (713) 473-2801.
- Reject and call out rape culture
There are a lot of unhealthy messages about relationships floating around out there. Stuff that makes it seem like young girls must be guarded like property and young boys can’t possibly control themselves around the opposite sex. Messages that totally ignore anyone who doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl, or whose sexual orientation isn’t straight. And these messages lead survivors of abuse to feel blamed, shamed, and invisible. As adult influencers, we need to call out that nonsense!
Laying a foundation for healthy relationships in a young person’s life is so important to helping them stay safe and feel supported once they transition into a teen or young adult. Check in with us soon to learn how you can continue this work once your young person is ready to start dating.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.