Voices from the Field

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to learn what experts -- researchers, practitioners, family -- from across the country think by reading a short post that includes the latest promising practices on a range of school climate topics, along with references and related resources.

What do you think has the GREATEST influence on teenage perceptions of what a healthy relationship is?

When reflecting on teenage relationships as you look down your school hallways, thoughts of peer pressure, raging hormones, trivial ideas about love and friendship may come to mind. It can be tempting for us to pay more attention to the negative effects of unhealthy relationships, particularly during dating violence prevention month, however healthy relationships are much more prevalent than unhealthy ones.

It was not until the past decade that researchers extended the focus on teenage relationships to positive relationship building practices and the significant impacts that relationships have on the emotional and mental well-being of teenagers (Collins, Welsh & Furman, 2009). Relationship formation is a dynamic process that is experienced by all teens, either indirectly or directly, and has the potential to serve a central role in the developmental stages leading up to adulthood (Scanlan, Bailey, & Parker, 2012). When investigating the characteristics of a healthy relationship, communication is seen as a key attribute to its development and sustainability. During times of frustration, strong communication within a relationship can lead to better coping strategies, reducing the likelihood of aggression (Mulford & Giordano, 2008).In addition to communication, honesty and mutual respect are also essential in building a healthy relationship (Loveisrespect).

How can adolescents develop the skills necessary for engaging in a healthy relationship?

Cultural norms and gender differences can impact the way that teenagers experience, view and engage in relationships (Adams & Williams, 2011). When learning to form healthy relationships, peers, in particular, play a big role in influencing the interactions that occur within relationships (Collins, Welsh & Furman, 2009; Adams & Williams, 2011). Relationships with caring adults are also important for teenage and preteen development, especially when providing guidance on how a young person should handle interactions and behaviors within relationships (Office of Adolescent Health, 2014). Research shows that well-designed, well-implemented, school health programs can increase healthy behaviors that teenagers engaged in during relationships (Wolfe et. al., 2009). Two examples of evidence-based curriculum programs that have demonstrated significant outcomes for teenagers are Safe Dates and Fourth R Skills for Youth Relationships.

Why should teenage relationships warrant attention?

Throughout the past decade, research findings have made apparent how central the presence of relationships are for teenagers. The claim is that relationships contribute to influencing teenagers as they develop their identity, sexuality, inter-familial relationships, and relationships with peers (Furman, 2002). In addition, relationships can significantly impact a person’s mental health and the attitudes and behaviors expressed in future relationships. While healthy relationships are more prevalent than harmful relationships, dating violence can emerge as early as middle school (Tharp et al., 2011). In order to ensure that teens develop the skills and resilience necessary to avoid and modify negative behaviors associated with unhealthy relationships, it is crucial that strategies for promoting healthy teen relationships receive adequate attention and support.

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