It is important for teens to know the facts about healthy vs unhealthy relationships and dispel the myths that have been generated. Abuse exists in all relationships however, it is more prevalent in males because it has been learned and/or they have been victims of abuse. When males have witnessed or been victims of abuse there is a 75% chance they will perpetrate abuse. Similarly, there is a 25 % chance females who witness or are victims of abuse will become victims.

How do we define abuse? It is a behavior or action used to scare, harm, threaten, control, intimidate or injure. It is an act of power and control. The types of abuse can include: emotional, physical, sexual, economic, spiritual, stalking and harassment, social and cyber.

Examples of the types of abuse can include:

Emotional abuse: name calling, threats, yelling, putting you down, manipulation, humiliation, extreme jealousy or possessiveness.

Physical abuse: pushing, punching, pulling, slapping grabbing, kicking, biting, throwing objects, use of weapons, driving recklessly, restraining.

Sexual abuse: unwanted touch, sexual comments, telling someone how to dress, degrading sexual comments, extremely jealous/possessive behavior; pressuring someone to go further.

Economic: controlling finances, stealing, hiding/taking credit cards, forcing someone to hand over their pay, not allowing someone to work.

Spiritual: making fun of/not allowing someone to practice their religion, using religion to justify hurting.

Stalking and Harassment: constantly calling, texting emailing, following someone or having someone else follow/keep tabs on you, showing up unexpectedly and frequently, sending unwanted gifts.

Social: behaving in a way that causes someone to feel embarrassed, sad, neglected scared or degraded in a social setting.

Cyber: posting messages that are demeaning, uploading or reposting photos that are embarrassing without permission, spreading gossip and rumors, tracking someone’s whereabouts, pressuring someone to take/share private photos; pressuring someone to share their passwords.

It is important to know that everyone deserves to be in a safe and healthy relationship! So what does this relationship look like:

  • Are you treated you with respect? Including respecting your boundaries – doesn’t pressure you to do things that you don’t want to do.
  • Offered support in the things you do and encourage you to try new things/not make fun of things you like or want to do
  • Doesn’t put you down.
  • Doesn’t get angry or jealous of time spent with family and friends – jealousy is not a sign of love.
  • Listens to your ideas and is willing to compromise.
  • Shares your interests.
  • Is willing to share their feelings and thoughts.
  • Is caring and honest.
  • Is trusting – doesn’t accuse you of cheating or being unfaithful.
  • Is there equality in your relationship – equal say and not being afraid to express how you feel? Communication is effective when information is shared and listened to.

If a teen finds themselves in an abusive relationship:

  • It is vitally important for them to know abuse is never the fault of the victim. The victim cannot be responsible for the behavior or actions of the abuser.
  • If the victim has been physically assaulted seek medical attention and report the assault to police. It is also important for the victim to talk to a family member or friend.
  • Maintain outside relationships and avoid isolation.
  • Learn about resources available and access them.

If a friend comes to you and shares they are in an abusive relationship you can:

  • Listen to how your friend is feeling. Your friend might not want to make any changes in the relationship and may not be looking for advice about what to do. They may just want to talk. You don’t need to have answers but you can be supportive and non-judgmental.
  • If you see a friend with physical injuries ask about how they happened but remember to be sensitive.
  • Offer to make a safety plan with your friend whether they stay in the relationship or end it. Offer to walk with them to classes or before and after school; offer to go with your friend when they talk to a family member, school counselor, or whoever they trust to talk to.
  • If threats of physical harm have been made advise your friend to call the police and offer support when this happens.

Think about the qualities you value in friendship and see how they match up with the ingredients in a healthy dating relationship! Work on developing good qualities in yourself! A positive self-esteem will help you realize you deserve a healthy relationship and attract others who think the same! If you are already dating make sure that your relationship brings out the best in both of you!

Written by Pam Wilson, THSW, My Sister’s Place Women & Children’s Shelter