Domestic and dating violence are learned behaviors, picked up from a wide range of sources throughout a teen’s surroundings. To stop dating violence, we must change the youth environment – what they learn at home and in school, the expectations of their peers, teachers, coaches and parents, the media messages they receive. These changes include:
- Educating youth on the difference between an abusive and a healthy relationship
- Helping teens develop healthy relationship skills
- Modeling healthy relationships through mentoring and positive media portrayals
- Enforcing negative consequences for abusive behavior
Through healthy relationship curricula, public education and systems reform, we must make broad changes to our culture, emphasizing positive behaviors and accountability for abusive behaviors.
Determining a Healthy Environment in Your Community
Think about how, or if, your community encourages healthy relationships and provides assistance when abuse occurs. Here are some questions to help you determine how healthy the local environment is for teens experiencing abuse.
- Do schools have explicit policies against relationship abuse and a clear system for dealing with it? By implementing a comprehensive policy to address relationship abuse, schools declare certain behaviors unacceptable and determine the consequences for them. School personnel, students and parents should be familiar with the policy, including the new avenues for reporting, discipline procedures and victim accommodations. Learn more about our School Policy Project to get your campus started.
- Do schools, youth groups, coaches and community centers teach healthy relationship skills and the warning signs of dating violence? Relationship skills are not something we are born with; we learn them. Youth must be taught healthy, respectful, non-violent ways of interacting with their peers, including romantic partners. It is important for all adults who work with young people to teach these skills and the warning signs of potentially dangerous relationships. Learn about our dating violence curriculum to get started.
- Is youth activism encouraged and supported? Research shows that teens in abusive relationships turn to a peer first. To get facts into youth networks, we need to support youth activism projects that stress the importance of healthy relationships. Get started with our Speak.Act.Change kit.
- Do parents and community leaders model and promote healthy relationship skills? Young people learn from watching the adults around them. As adults, it is critical that we model healthy relationship skills and behaviors for our youth.
- Do youth-targeted media promote healthy relationships and demonstrate consequences for abusive behavior? The media plays an important role in all of our lives. As technology continues to expand, we view more media messages through more venues than ever before. It is important that the messages young people receive promote healthy relationships and discourage abusive behaviors.
What can Policymakers do to Promote a Healthy Environment?
- Fund schools to work in collaboration with community advocates and teen dating violence experts to develop and implement comprehensive school policies to address relationship abuse.
- Fund training and technical assistance for community leaders, parents and adults who work with youth on how to educate teens about dating violence and model healthy relationship skills.
- Fund youth activism and peer education programs that focus on healthy relationship skills.
- Fund prevention campaigns that partner with a variety of media sources to promote healthy relationships and discourage abusive behaviors.
- Educate fellow policy makers on this important, yet often overlooked, issue by speaking loudly and often about the needs of youth in abusive relationships.