Let the teens in your life know: Healthy relationships matter, at every age
By Natalie Garcia
It would be hard to miss what’s been in the news lately.
- The outrage over a Stanford student who received a six-month jail sentence for a rape conviction.
- Baylor University firing both its president and football coach, over an investigation showing a “fundamental failure” to appropriately respond to sexual assault incidents.
- The widespread belief that dealing with online harassment is now an inevitable part of trying to find love.
Even when the Young Adult book series Twilight first came out, it was quickly criticized for its depiction of teen relationships as glamorizing abuse, control, and manipulation.
Sometimes when we consider domestic violence, we fail to think about how a relationship might have gotten there in the first place, so let’s go a little further back – before moving in together, before marriage, before all those “relationship milestones” that come to mind.
Do you remember what you thought dating was supposed to be like, when you first started dating? Maybe you were in your early teens, maybe a little younger, maybe older. It was pretty scary, right? So much excitement and yet so many butterflies, and either too little advice, or way too much unhelpful advice (“Just follow your heart? What does that even mean?”).
Navigating romantic relationships can be overwhelming and confusing, and for so many teens, we simply don’t prepare them for what they can expect in a healthy relationship, or for how they can notice red flags in unhealthy or abusive relationships.
Here is the bottom line: 1 in 3 teens in the United States will be a victim of dating violence of some type – that includes physical, sexual, digital, emotional abuse, and even stalking. 
That is a rate far higher than any other type of youth violence in the U.S.
Can you imagine what might happen to the rate of domestic and dating violence in our communities if every teen knew what a healthy relationship looked like (long before they started dating!), and knew that they deserved to have one?
If that’s what we’re reaching for, what can you do to help the teens in your life be prepared to meet the challenges of dating head-on?
- Be a role model for equality, respect, and positive communication in your relationships.
- Increase your comfort level with openly discussing dating and dating violence. Easier said than done, right? But – it’s so worth it, because your comfort in sharing on such a difficult subject will make teens more comfortable too, and can decrease the stigma that comes with seeking advice on healthy dating.
- Encourage critical thinking on dating myths and gender stereotypes. Remember: Abuse is NEVER normal, and it is NEVER the victim’s fault.
- Listen! Be a safe place where teens know they can come to when they need to work through their struggles, and not be judged, lectured, or stigmatized.
- If you or someone you know is looking for help regarding an abusive relationship, you can always contact the Family Abuse Center at 1-800-283-8401.
What’s the most important thing you can take away today? Your example matters. Show the youth in your life that they deserve a healthy, loving, respectful relationship.
Natalie Garcia is a recent Baylor social work graduate. She and her husband have been stationed at Fort Hood since 2014. She loves science fiction and stand-up comedy. She has rescued two cats in the last six months, and thoroughly expects even more cats to find her in the future.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.
 LoveIsRespect.org. Dating abuse statistics. (http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/)