Please note: Entries within this blog may contain references to instances of domestic abuse, dating abuse, sexual assault, abuse or harassment. At all times, Break the Cycle encourages readers to take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves emotionally and psychologically.  If you would like to speak with an advocate, please contact a 24/7 peer advocate at 866-331-9474  or text “loveis” to 22522.

Back 2 School: Why A+ Relationships are Important

A message from Break the Cycle CEO, Amy Sánchez

As the CEO of Break the Cycle and the parent of a college freshmen and a high school junior, I have learned a lot over the years about A+ Relationships and D- ones as well.  We know that 1 in 3 young people will experience dating violence or sexual violence and 16-24 year olds experience violence more than any other age group….yes, it’s hard to believe, more than any other age group!  So why is it when I talk with my friends, acquaintances and adults all over the country they have no clue this is true? Or even that it is happening with their own kids.  

When I connect the dots for adults I always say, “Remember what WE were like back in the day?” which usually solicits “Yeah… I remember sometimes it could get pretty messed up” or “We were good kids; we just made dumb choices sometimes.”  Knowing now what dating violence and sexual violence are, those statistics of 1 in 3 were likely the same (or more) “back in the day.” We just didn’t have the words for it then, and we didn’t know who we could trust to talk about it.  When I graduated in 1992, college campuses were just beginning to take action against violence and sexual assault.  I participated in SAFE (Students for an Assault Free Environment), a club led by a visionary student that forced our little campus to bring violence out of the shadows and give a name to what many of us had already experienced there.

As long as parents have had children they have struggled to talk with young people about dating and sexual violence.  I know I do.  My children say that I am strange because I ask too many questions, highlight “red flags”, and want to know every detail of their lives.  And even when we do have the tough conversations, I sometimes struggle to use A+ Relationship tactics:  open communication, respect, healthy boundaries, and support…because the bottom line is, parenting is hard.  It is a lot like riding on a rollercoaster with your hands in the air and no seat belt – exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

 Young people look to us to set the tone on healthy relationships.

Though parenting isn’t always easy, my interactions with young people all over the country have made one truth very clear:  young people look to us to set the tone on healthy relationships. They look to us when they are scared and confused; they crave our attention and guidance.  Their lives aren’t simple—or perfect—or easy.  Lives of youth 12-24 can be hard, messy, and confusing, just like ours were “back in the day.” To me, A+ Relationships are about being honest about our aspirations with one another:  good communication, love, respect, healthy boundaries. But it’s also about supporting each other even when that’s not our reality:  when our partner abuses us or our parents aren’t around; when we are struggling to make it day by day, or someone is making us feel confused or ashamed.  

When I talk about A+ relationships it is with the fundamental knowledge that relationships can be hard, no matter your age.  This is why I hope you—parents and caring adults—remember just how important it is to connect with young people.  Listen. Encourage. Support. Empathize.  Remember yourself “back in the day,” and model just how important A+ Relationships are for the young people in your life. With relationships, in some ways we all have to go back to school.