Empowering Youth to Make Healthy Choices

Written by Harriet Fagan. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on July 21, 2010 with No Comments

By Harriet Fagan

Last month’s column introduced the topic of dating violence, some form of which is experienced by one in every three teens. Today, we’re going to address helping your teen identify what a healthy relationship is and to recognize and deal with an abuser.


First of all, be sure that your teen knows that he/she has the right to be in a healthy relationship, to always be treated with respect, to have friends and activities apart from the boyfriend or girlfriend, to set limits and values, to feel safe in the relationship, to say no, and to leave the relationship when ready. No one should be put down, yelled at, shoved, controlled, ignored, embarrassed in front of others, told what to wear or not wear by, or made to feel afraid of, a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Toxic relationships are part of the curriculum that A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH) presents in high school classrooms. PATH’s health educators explain that a toxic relationship is one in which commitment and affection are unbalanced; one person is a “giver” and the other is a “taker.” Givers want the best for each other and aren’t threatened by other people or activities entering the relationship. In a giving relationship, both parties are willing to sacrifice for each other.

Takers, on the other hand, are most interested in getting their own needs met. Because they can be very charismatic, charming, and capable of masking their controlling nature, they can be difficult to recognize early in a relationship. They often make big promises that are rarely kept and are very selfish. A relationship with a taker will lack the healthy elements of self-sacrifice, mutual respect, trust, honesty, compromise, individuality, good communication and anger control.

To inspire your teen to give some thought to their relationships, encourage a visit to www.pathblazer.org, where the homepage displays a link to “Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em”. This interactive card game is a fun tool for assessing relationships and will provide insight into and perhaps spark some discussion of the topic.

If you already know or suspect abuse in your child’s relationship, be encouraging and supportive. Try to resist criticizing your child or the boyfriend/girlfriend. Do let the teenager know you care about him/her, disapprove of the abuser’s behavior and are concerned about your child’s safety. Avoid telling your child what to do.

Think carefully and listen to your teen before deciding to take any action yourself. Offer your protection, such as being around when the abuser is present, picking your child up when they are out, changing phone numbers, or answering the door or telephone if the abuser tries to make contact. You can also offer to go with your child to an advocate and/or contact a service yourself for support or to learn about legal options.

In general, talk openly with your teenagers about abuse and healthy relationships. Encourage them to share their thoughts and experiences and respect their points of view. Armed with knowledge, self-respect, and your love and support, your child will be prepared to identify and walk away from abusive relationships.

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About Harriet Fagan

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Harriet Fagan is a mother, grandmother, freelance writer and former educator; she creates this column under the auspices of A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH, Inc.).

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