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 time to recognize that love isn’t always perfect. In February, organizations across the country observe Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month to empower youth to engage in healthy relationships and recognize early signs of intimate partner violence.

The YNET Club of Greenwich High School, sponsored by the YWCA of Greenwich, spent February encouraging teens to explore what love encompasses through lunchtime activities taking Polaroids, a personal care product campaign and partnering with the Commission First Selector Youth Center 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 on hearing their voices and validating their perspectives. One in three teens experience relationship abuse, and most individuals experience intimate partner violence for the first time between the ages of 11 and 24. Enthusiastic and freely given consent is a necessity for any safe intimate encounter. Often, consent is framed as a simple “yes” or “no”, expressions that can oversimplify the circumstances faced by adolescents. Alcohol, peer pressure, and other external factors can affect the decisions teens make with their partners. Consent in these cases requires discussion and consideration that teens may not understand or be prepared to handle.

Many teens at the “Love Is…” event expressed concern about the difficulties of navigating high school relationships, both romantic and platonic. While we are fortunate to include dating violence in middle and high school health curricula, the classes do not provide enough time to absorb concepts related to healthy relationships at a basic level, let alone explore their complexities. 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 just offer students a seat at the table, young people must be included in conversations about issues such as teen dating violence that affect them. These conversations should include a space for students to share thoughts, experiences, and new ideas without judgment. Most importantly, adults must put their own feelings and prejudices aside to listen and validate the voices of young people who speak out.
The last few years have been a time of major changes in the way communities talk about relationships and their boundaries. Parents and other caring adults shouldn’t wait to talk about healthy relationships until they suspect abuse. Empathy, assertive communication and access to supportive resources are critical skills that will help young people navigate relationships throughout the lifecycle, from early friendships in kindergarten to chosen life partners as adults. The Greenwich community has an opportunity to end teen dating violence by opening new avenues for healthy dialogue, but it’s up to each of us to take the first steps to make it a reality.
Amrutha Nandakumar and Hadley Faulstitch are on the executive committee of YNET, a Greenwich High School club sponsored by the YWCA Greenwich. If you have questions about teen dating violence and prevention, contact the YWCA Greenwich through their 24/7 hotline at 203-622-0003. YWCA Greenwich is the only state-designated and accredited domestic abuse service provider in Greenwich, and is also available to advise parents and others who want to help a loved one who may be in an abusive relationship. If you want to keep up with YNet, follow our Instagram @ynetgreenwich.

Let’s talk about high school relationships

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