One highlight of my job as a high school teacher is having conversations with young adults. My students give me hope with their questions, their deep reflections, their aspirations and also with the stories that they share. Witnessing my students develop their voice and use it to shape a narrative, advocate for causes about which they are passionate, and to seek affect change is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my role as an educator.
This month is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), and for the second year Between Friends, a Chicago-based nonprofit agency dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence ran a campaign called Adults Listen Up, highlighting youth voices and their need for adults to be stronger supporters. They selected 5 young people to write essays about what adults can do to support them in making good relationship choices. I am honored to share Ruby’s (age 19) story, which highlights the need for adults to show up and be intentional about how they support young people.
Ruby, College Freshman
A lot of parents tell their children about sex, which is also known as “the talk.” When it comes to consent or how to have a healthy relationship, those conversations are harder to find. That leaves young people to figure things out through examples in their own lives, the media, and their friends. I have never had an example of what a healthy relationship was, much less an adult willing to tell me what one was. When it came to consent, let’s just say the message I received was that I couldn’t wear anything too provocative because that would be “asking for it.” Of course, other young people will have different situations and experiences, but take a look at the examples given to us in the media: rapists getting six-month prison sentences, partners verbally and physically abusing each other, and toxic relationships being romanticized. These are all real consequences of adults not having well-informed conversations with their young people. Adults must be more intentional when teaching young people about healthy relationships and consent.
I remember starting my first serious relationship when I was 14 years old and having to hide it from my parents because I was not allowed to have a boyfriend. I remember trying to do the opposite of what my parents’ relationship was before they split up, but also not having any guidance on how to do that. I remember having so many questions and problems that quickly became painful for me, but I had to hold these inside because I was not allowed to have a boyfriend. One time, my mom actually walked in on me crying and I had to lie and say it was because of a sad book I was reading. I’m sure no parent wants their child to have to go through everything by themselves. It’s so easy to write young people off because they couldn’t possibly be going through anything that serious, but this has real implications that will ultimately harm the person in question.
Adults communicating with their children, regardless of how healthy their own relationships are, could potentially break cycles of generational violence with just a simple conversation. In addition, if it could be helped, adults need to set a better example of what a healthy relationship is, because the process of internalizing is fast, but the healing and recovery process is slow. I also recommend adults challenge themselves to be more comfortable speaking to young people about difficult subjects, such as consent and healthy relationships. We need to feel safe enough to go to adults when facing an issue.
Conversations about consent and healthy relationships are not happening nearly as much as they should. From the point of view of a young person, I believe that adults need to do a better job on their end to allow these conversations to flow naturally. The importance of these conversations cannot be stressed enough because they will dictate the type of life your young person lives. Nobody wants their child to be the aggressor or the victim, so take the time to talk to your young person and make sure they know you are there and know the right way to treat a fellow human being.
Remember, Ruby’s essay is just one of five highlighted by Between Friends in their ‘Adults Listen Up 2019 Guide’ which you MUST check out. It features tips and suggestions directly from teens on how to better support them by “listening up.” You’ll find the five awesome essays from teens detailing their experiences talking to adults about relationships, challenges leaving abusive relationships, and suggestions for how to best guide these conversations in a way that positively impacts them.
Find Between Friends at these places:
- Website: www.betweenfriendschicago.org
- Twitter: @Between_Friends
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