As a Prevention Coordinator, we have conversations with students about relationships constantly. A common topic of discussion is how the adults in their lives view their relationships: friendships and dating. We hear from students most often that their parents “Just don’t get it,” or that “You’re too young to understand.” Teens often feel dismissed and unheard from the adults in their lives that are trying to help and truly believe they are giving out good advice.
On the other side, we hear from parents that they are concerned for their child to start dating, or that they are unsure of how to talk about relationships with their children without saying or doing the wrong thing. Our program is starting a new parent portal that we hope will help facilitate some of these discussions. To truly prevent violence, of any form, the conversation has to be on going, and come from all points in a young person’s life. To truly carry out our vision at Safe Harbor of “influencing a culture where all people feel safe and valued,” we must make sure that parents and young people feel safe enough to begin these conversations at home.
So, who better to help us explain more of what youth feel their parents can do to have these hard conversations than young people themselves! To start, we reached out to three of our REP Social Media Ambassadors, Lillie, Grace, and Jessica, all students who have been through our REP curriculum, to ask them some of the questions we get most often from parents.
The first question that we asked is the question we hear most from parents, “What are some conversation starters that would help you talk to your parents about relationships?” The answer, ASK! How simple, right? Obviously, it’s not always so easy, Grace gave some great insight on how to set up an environment that makes it easier for parents to answer and for students to respond:
“Being more open about relationships, and setting an environment where both the teen and the adult feel like they can talk freely about relationships.”
Our new parent portal will focus on exactly how parents can work to be more open and make their students feel safe and valued in the discussion about relationships, healthy or not.
To follow up we asked our Ambassadors, “How could your parents make an environment feel more open?” The main answer we received was for parents to be more patient, and understanding about teens’ relationship realities. Dating has DEFINITELY changed in many ways, so some teens feel that their parents expect them to date like they did, but that is not what happens. Jessica said:
“Be patient and understanding that relationships and dating has changed a little. Also being involved in the relationship and checking in periodically, but respecting privacy and having trust.”
When it comes to trust and privacy, things definitely get difficult for both parents, and their teens. Often times, parents are worried about their children and feel that they have to protect them from all the dangers in our world. But, there has to be a balance, especially when we want teens to talk to us and be honest. Modeling trust and privacy helps teens understand how they should practice these behaviors in their own intimate relationships.
Which leads us to our last question to our Ambassadors: “In what way could your parents help you to remember healthy relationship characteristics and help you to set healthy boundaries with your partner?” The answers all focused on how parents should display healthy relationships in their own lives, as well as talking with their children about what healthy is. Here is Lillie’s perspective:
“Maybe by displaying it through their own relationship or being more involved with their children’s relationships. Yes, teenagers are super standoffish. But being caring instead of pushy and demanding can make a lot of difference.”
Overall, young people want to know that their parents are hearing them and that their parents are trying to understand what they are experiencing. When it comes to teen dating violence, often we find that many young people are so fearful of punishment from their parents, or disappointing their parents that they will continue to hide the relationship or cover up what is really happening. Did you know that:
40% of students report that their dating partner sometimes wants to control what they do?
13% of students felt afraid of being seriously hurt by their dating partner?
Our goal in the classroom is to empower youth to have these hard conversations with the adults in their lives, to reach out for help, and to be honest and open. Are you ready to listen?
We will be posting some resource materials on our parent portal that will help with conversation starters and a quick guide about what dating looks like for teens.
– Anna Spatafora, Prevention Coordinator with help from Lillie Addis, Grace Pavlick, and Jessica Goldsmith