Let’s talk about high school relationships
February has long been known as the month of love, inspiring images of red and white hearts and cartoon cupids. But this month is also a period to recognize that love isn’t always perfect. In February, organizations around the country observe Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month to empower youth to engage in healthy relationships and recognize the early signs of intimate partner violence.
Greenwich High School’s YNET Club, sponsored by the YWCA of Greenwich, spent February encouraging teens to explore what love encompasses through lunchtime activities taking Polaroids, a toiletries drive, and partnering with the First Selectman’s Youth Commission to facilitate a “Love is …” conversation where teens learned about the cycle of relationships, reflected on the meaning of consent, and considered ways to support survivors of intimate partner violence.
Through these events, teens shared their understanding of healthy and unhealthy relationships in a space centered around listening to their voices and validating their perspectives. One in three teens experiences relationship abuse and the majority of individuals experience intimate partner violence for the first time between ages 11 and 24. Young people are particularly at risk for dating violence, in part, because of the way consent is understood. Freely given, enthusiastic consent is a necessity for any safe intimate encounter. Oftentimes, consent is framed as a simple “yes” or “no,” expressions that can over-simplify circumstances teens face. Alcohol, social pressure, and other outside factors can impact the decisions teens make with their partners. Consent in these cases requires both discussion and consideration that teens may not understand or be equipped to handle.
Many teens at the “Love Is …” event expressed concerns about the difficulties of navigating high school relationships, both romantic and platonic. Though we are lucky to have dating violence included in health curriculums at the middle and high school level, lessons don’t provide enough time to absorb the concepts related to healthy relationships at a base level, much less explore their intricacies. Because of this, adults in our community have an important role to play as partners, role models, and guiding figures for the teens in their lives. It’s not enough to simply offer students a seat at the table, young people must be included in conversations regarding issues such as teen dating violence that affect them. These conversations must include a space for students to share thoughts, experiences, and new ideas without judgment. Most importantly, adults must put their own feelings and biases aside to listen to and validate the voices of the young people who speak up.
The past few years have been a time of great shifts in the way communities talk about relationships and their boundaries. Parents and other caring adults shouldn’t wait to have a conversation about healthy relationships until they suspect abuse. Empathy, assertive communication, and accessing supportive resources are critical skills that will help young people navigate relationships across the life cycle, from first friendships in kindergarten to life partners chosen as adults. The Greenwich community has an opportunity to end Teen Dating Violence by opening up new avenues for healthy dialogue, but it is up to each of us to take those first steps to make this a reality.
Adults in our community have an important role to play as partners, role models, and guiding figures for the teens in their lives.
Amrutha Nandakumar and Hadley Faulstitch are on the Executive Committee of YNET, a Greenwich High School club sponsored by YWCA Greenwich. If you have questions about teen dating violence and prevention, reach out to YWCA Greenwich through its 24/7 hotline at 203-622-0003. YWCA Greenwich is the only state-designated and accredited provider of domestic abuse services in Greenwich, and is also available to counsel parents and others who want to help a loved one who might be in an abusive relationship. If you’d like to keep up with YNet, follow our Instagram @ynetgreenwich.