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Choose Respect: Teaching Kids and Teens about Healthy Relationships

Graphic: Cartoon boys and girlsHealthy relationships are about trust, honesty, and compromise. Sounds simple enough, but sometimes kids don’t see relationships in such black-and-white terms. Between "I just called to say hi," and "Why aren’t you texting me back?" lie many shades of gray that adults can help kids and teens understand.


Photo: A family at the beach

Being an adolescent can be tough. Adolescence is a time when kids and teens learn how to make decisions about relationships with their friends, family, and girlfriends or boyfriends. What they learn now, about how to treat others, will affect relationships throughout their lifetime. But kids and teens can’t do this by themselves. They need adults — parents, teachers, coaches, and others — to help them understand and choose healthy respectful, relationships.

Did you know that one in 11 teens report being hit or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend at least once in the past 12 months? Even something like putting someone down or trying to change how they dress can be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. That’s why adults, especially parents, need to talk to kids and teens now about the importance of developing healthy, respectful relationships.

Unfortunately, when healthy relationship skills aren’t formed, some young people find themselves in abusive relationships that are marked by frustration, anger, low self-esteem, and even physical injury. And it’s more than just physical harm. Kids who report being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year are more likely to report unhealthy behaviors like binge drinking, suicide attempts, and physical fighting.

Photo: Three teenage students

What Makes a Relationship Healthy?

People in healthy relationships respect each other. They can talk honestly and freely to each other and share decisions. They trust and support each other and respect each other’s independence. In contrast, an unhealthy relationship is unbalanced. One person may try to control another or manipulate another to get his or her way; use verbal insults, mean language, or nasty putdowns; and even resort to physical violence.

What Do We Mean When We Talk about "Dating Violence"?

Photo: Four smiling students

Dating violence isn't an argument every once in a while, or a bad mood after a bad day. Dating violence is a pattern of controlling behavior that someone uses against a girlfriend or boyfriend.

Dating violence can cause injury and even death, but it doesn't have to be physical. It can include verbal and emotional abuse - constant insults, isolation from family and friends, intimidation or threats, name calling, controlling what someone wears - and it can also include sexual violence.

When Should Adults Talk to Kids and Teens about Healthy Relationships?

The best time to talk about unhealthy relationships is before they start. Because between "I just called to say hi," and "Why aren’t you texting me back right away?" lie many shades of gray that kids and teens need help to understand.

But how and when do you talk about healthy relationships? Experts say the earlier, the better.  Helping kids and teens develop healthy relationship skills early can help them interact positively with others as they grow.  Here are some skills that you can work on with kids and teens to help them develop and maintain healthy relationships:

Photo: A father with his children.

Respect: showing consideration for the feelings and well being of the other person.

Anger Management: dealing with anger in positive, non-violent ways.

Problem Solving: knowing how to break problems down, find possible solutions, and consider the likely outcomes for each solution.

Negotiation and Compromise: turning problems into "win-win" situations in which each partner gets some of what he or she wants.

Assertiveness — Not Aggression: asking for what one wants clearly and respectfully, without threats, intimidation, or physical force. Assertive communication means respecting the rights of others, as well as your own rights.

More Information The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
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