February has been recognized as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. The 28 days within it shine light on what love is, what it shouldn’t be and ways to recognize one from the other. It is specifically marked as an opportunity to direct teens and young adults to the right path of forming healthy friendships and relationships with those around them. It is also designed to provide resources of healing for those who have experienced violence in these relationships.
Indigenous communities specifically follow protocols when entering into relationships with one another. Although each tribal community approaches it differently, one thing is clear: Family is the heart of Native American culture and is the example of all relationships, intimate or not. Building and maintaining strong ones is an important key to success in all other aspects of life. Friendships and relationships must first be positive and healthy before any other factors can flourish. But how do you discuss this with the children or young adults in your circle? Let’s explore.
Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable: It’s vital to have open communication with those you protect or care for. Establishing open lines to discuss anything and everything is the first step in making your teen or young adult feel safe talking about situations that may be hard.
Understanding moves mountains: If your loved one is in a relationship, make it a point to ask about their partner. Invest in understanding their connection. Point out examples of healthy relationships from your circle to create a baseline of how relationships should operate. The better you understand your teen, who they’re dating and the bond they share, the better you’ll be able to evaluate their relationship and spot the negatives and positives.
Acknowledge that relationships are difficult: When having these chats with the ones you care for, do note that relationships do have trials and tribulations. However, be sure to point out that trying times are normal and can be dealt with positively. As a parent or guardian, you likely have relatable experiences with both the good and bad parts of relationships. Let’s be honest - you may have had at least one, if not more, relationships from which you draw wisdom. Consider sharing your experience but separating your own lessons learned from your teen’s. They are still two different stories. Respect that.
Mention red flags in private: If you suspect your teen or loved one is an unhealthy or violent relationship, either due to an attitude change or physical appearance, set aside a time to have this conversation in private. However, be sure to act promptly to reduce any chance of abuse happening in the meantime. Time is of the essence when deeming if a relationship is toxic.
A plethora of resources are available if you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. The first is the National Dating Abuse helpline, where you can chat live, text “LOVEIS” to 22522 or call 1866-3311-9474 or TTY 1866-331-8453. The second is Break the Cycle, which has teamed up with the helpline to offer the most comprehensive resources on dating violence. Other national resources and public awareness campaigns are available to combat relationship red flags. Be sure to locate available resources within your area, too. Many groups or advocate centers can be found at clinics, hospitals, schools or within community bulletins.
Dating violence can be prevented with the right lines of communication, education and resources. Being aware of the friendships and relationships your teen or young adult experiences is the first step in keeping them safe.
Let’s all protect one another