February is the official month for National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month. It’s a relevant time to talk with our offspring about what constitutes healthy and unhealthy relationships and remind ourselves that we can do this year-round.
Raise your hand if you sometimes get hung up on “what do I tell my kids about sex.” Keep your hand up if you would rather ignore the topic until your babies go off to college. Before I had kids of my own, I used to worry; how will I ever talk about this topic with my kids. Raising my daughters and going through divorce and dating, I see lots more stuff that needs to be talked about with them. What kinds of stuff? Dating, love (including self-love), relationships, and breakups for starters. In my mind, sex goes hand in hand with these and must be included in the conversations too. Particular months like this are reminders to bring this back to our awareness.
When February arrives, everything is about Valentine’s Day (not my favorite holiday but that’s another post for another time). We get flooded with messages of all the things we can do to show our love this Valentine’s Day. Stores bring out the Vday cards and goodies before January ends. Radio and TV stations play ads for jewelers and florists. There’s even a high profile movie *coughFiftyShadescough* out. Talking about dating violence awareness is essential because some people might think this fairy tale is a good relationship. I use the previews as a time to explain that this movie is fantasy. I also point out that it’s not a model for a healthy relationship and why. If you’ve read the books then you have some solid examples to begin a discussion.
A Cautionary Tale
When I was growing up I thought jealousy and possessiveness was a desirable trait in a partner. I even dated a guy who left me at a bar because I smiled back at a guy who smiled at me. That wasn’t his first sign of jealousy, but thankfully it was the worst of the stories from that relationship.I’m here to tell you “IT’S. NOT. A. GOOD. THING. ” I’ve shared my experience and that story to my daughters. Feeling jealous isn’t the problem – lots of people feel jealousy. It’s the reacting in irrational or out-of-control ways that’s the problem. At this writing, I do not recall what specific message I got growing up that would make me feel control and possessiveness was a good thing – like “he cares so much.” I talk about these and other behaviors that make up healthy and unhealthy relationships quite often.
The good people at Girlology created a Factsheet for Dating Violence Prevention Month so you can see some “Red Flags in Relationships.” (thank you, Girlology, for a great resource!)
So what can be done?
Don’t let that list scare you. We can take scenarios from real life or books and movies and make them into teachable moments for our kids. What are the role models for relationships available to our kids? Where do they get their role models if we aren’t broaching the topic ourselves? A new YA book series might be a good jumping off point in talking about healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Check out the CommonSenseMedia.org review of “A Court of Thorns And Roses” by Sarah J. Maas to see if it’s right for you (of particular interest, the recommended age differences between parents and kids); There’s a “perfect” person in the story who may not be so perfect after all. And that’s a great thing to process through. Together. Take any opportunity to brainstorm good and bad qualities in relationships.
February and Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month is a good time to reflect on relationships, both good and bad (hopefully, no one is in an unhealthy relationship already). Let’s help our kids avoid the emotional, physiological and psychological pain of an unhealthy relationship, use the media and tools around us to start conversations, and teach our teens to recognize what behaviors are healthy and to avoid relationships with people who exhibit unhealthy behaviors. It is for their benefit after all.