It’s February – that magical time of year when love is in the air, or at least on every commercial and greeting card. With the onslaught of hearts and flowers come the not-often talked about negative consequences of love: heartbreak, mistrust, despair, and no one’s favorite, emergency clinic appointments. As we think about how love, sex, romance, and intimacy permeate the minds of our youth during Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month, here are some strategies to support our young people as they navigate the waters of interpersonal relationships:
- Model what you want to see. One of the first ways in which we all learn is by observing and mimicking what we see. Young people pay attention to how the adults in their lives handle relationship stress, conflict, and communication in difficult situations. Be mindful of what you project that your young people can see/hear.
- Building the all-importance self-esteem. We ask our youth to be brave in many situations, and to advocate for themselves in difficult situations. What we must not forget is to instill in our young people the skills and confidence it takes to be your own advocate, stand up for yourself, and know that your voice – in ANY relationship – is important.
- Expertise is not necessary. Are you stumped as to which STIs are bacterial and which are viral? Not well versed in the four steps of decision-making? Don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to be an expert in sex & healthy relationships to be a caring, trusted, and genuine support to a young person. Unconditional positive regard goes a long way. Still nervous about finding information? You’re in luck; there’s this thing called the internet. See some of the resources below.
- Teach what love isn’t – Love = respect. Relationships are not easy. They take commitment, patience, conflict skills, and trust. Youth – and adults for that matter – often struggle to identify the difference between love, desire, and affection. What does a healthy relationship look like? Should you be happy all the time? Is it a good relationship if you argue all the time or if you never argue? What does respect look and feel like? How do you know when you’re ready for sex? How do you communicate that you’re not ready? Young people are eager to seek the answers to these questions. However, they’re often not readily available or found in a textbook. Be open to having honest, meaningful conversation about the realities of relationships which, in this lady’s opinion, can be the best Valentine’s Day gift you could give a young person.
Author: Kim Frierson, Training Specialist, RHYTTAC/NSPN