Before I began volunteering and later working for Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) I felt comfortable talking to young people about interpersonal relationships and group dynamics, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking about dating, let alone domestic or sexual violence. I certainly encountered kids who experienced violence and controlling actions in their relationships, but I felt uncomfortable, even scared to address it in conversation. I didn’t have the language or awareness to know what to say.
This is intended to be a friendly guide for talking about relationships in everyday conversations with kids. This guide defines what a healthy peer and dating relationship looks like through four simple statements:
I get to be myself
I treat others well
I can say no
I have fun
These four statements are the heart and soul of our work—they offer critical thinking opportunities for people to think about their relationships. The Healthy Relationships Statements are intended to guide relationship choices for a person’s whole life. They serve equally well in middle school as in middle age. Rather than offering a laundry list of qualities of a healthy relationship (e.g. respect, communication, listening, tolerance, etc.) or a long list of abusive behaviors, the statements provide a working lens with which to explore kinds of relationships at different points in life. They apply equally well to peer relationships as to dating relationships. The Healthy Relationship Statements are the premise with which we begin all conversations about relationships. They are not restricted to helping us avoid abuse, indeed they can help make a healthy relationship even healthier.
Power Up, Speak Out! is informed by domestic and sexual violence work. Everyone who had a hand in crafting the lessons and core concepts also serves as a victim’s advocate. They have heard heartbreaking stories about people caught in unhealthy and abusive relationships. Power Up, Speak Out! is their hopeful response. Many survivors of abuse say they wished someone had talked to them about what a healthy relationship looks like. Survivors also say that they wish someone had told them that they deserved to be in healthy relationships.
My experience is teaching with middle school students, however teachers and counselors that work with a wider range of students have used Power Up, Speak Out! core concepts in classrooms, counseling sessions, the lunchroom, Facebook, and the play yard. The Healthy Relationship Statements are used by domestic violence advocates on helplines—they can be a great, non threatening way to identify unhealthy relationships and abuse with people who may not initially identify themselves as being abused.
With the five-lesson program we teach what a healthy relationship looks like, we investigate uses of personal power, we explore personal boundaries, we learn what consent is and we learn how to use our power so that everyone can be themselves in their relationships. This Play Book takes the core concepts practiced in the five lessons outside of the classroom. It applies these core concepts to casual conversations and teachable moments that can happen anytime. We are not offering a script for these conversations, but an approach—a dynamic and flexible set of language to guide the conversation.