Learn What Experts Think
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.
We encourage you to explore this topic further. Here is a selection of resources about building and sustaining healthy teenage relationships.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Dating Matters Initiative (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/datingmatters/)
- Family & Youth Services Bureau's Toolkit to Incorporate Adolescent Relationship Abuse Prevention Into Existing Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Programming (http://ncfy.acf.hhs.gov/features/toolkit-incorporate-adolescent-relationship-abuse-prevention-existing-adolescent-pregnancy)
- Find Youth Info's Teen Dating Violence (http://findyouthinfo.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/characteristics)
- Get Smart. Get Help. Get Safe training toolkit (http://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/get-smart-get-help-get-safe-teenage-dating-abuse-training-specialized-instructional-support)
- National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence (https://nchdv.confex.com/nchdv/2012/webprogram/Session2119.html)
- National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (http://www.justice.gov/ovw/dating-violence)
- Nemours' Teen Health (http://teenshealth.org/teen/your_mind/relationships/healthy_relationship.html)
- Safe Dates Program (http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/safedatesabout.page)
- The Relationship Foundation (http://www.therelationshipfoundation.org/index.html)
- United States Department of Health and Human Services' Girls Health (http://www.girlshealth.gov/relationships/healthy/)
Adams, H. L., & Williams, L., R. (2011). Advice from teens to teens about dating: Implications for healthy relationships. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 254–264.
Collin, W.A., Welsh, D. P., & Furman, W. (2009). Adolescent romantic relationships.Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 631–652.
Furman, W. (2002). The emerging field of adolescent romantic relationships. American Psychological Society, 11, 177–180.
Kann, L., Brener, N. D., & Allensworth, D. D. (2001). Health education: Results from the school health policies and programs study 2000. Journal of School Health, 71, 266–278.
Love is Respect. (n.d.). Healthy Relationships. Retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/dating-basics/healthy-relationships
Mulford, C., Giordano, P.C., (2008). Teen Dating Violence: A Closer Look at Adolescent Romantic Relationships.National Institute of Justice Journal, 261
Murphey, D., Barry, M., Vaughn, B., (2013). Positive Mental Health: Resilience. Child Trends. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Child_Trends-2013_11_01_AHH_Resilience.pdf
Office of Adolescent Health. (2014). Healthy Relationships. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/index.html
Tharp, A.T., Burton, T., Freire, K., Hall, D. M., Harrier, S., Latzman, N.E., Luo, F., Niolon, P.H., Ramirez, M., & Vagi, K.J. (2011). Dating matters: Strategies to promote healthy teen relationships.Journal of Women’s Health, 20 (12), 1761–1765.
Wolfe, D.A., Crooks, C., Jaffe, P., Chiodo, D., Hughes, R., Ellis, W., Stitt, L., & Donner, A. (2009). A school-based program to prevent adolescent dating violence.Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 163(8), 692–699.