Power Up, Speak Out! is based in Montana. Our staff loves to camp, hike, ski, rock climb, and do lots of other awesome things outside! But, we all know that it can be a dangerous world out there if you haven’t learned how to be safe.

Every year, hundreds of people are injured while visiting the great outdoors. Everything from meeting a wild animal, to being swept away by a river current, to not packing enough water, to getting lost, to falling – all of these things can cause injury, or even death. The saddest part is that many of these mishaps could be avoided if people were taught skills to survive outside.

What does this have to do with talking to youth about relationships? We feel like it’s an apt analogy.

 Just like those who go outside without having been taught survival skills, our young people are often left on their own when it comes to figuring out relationships. Mishaps and even injury – emotional, mental, AND physical – can be the result.

You may think we’re using a bit of an extreme analogy, but statistics show that 1 in 3 young people will experience dating abuse. Teen dating abuse doesn’t discriminate by race, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, or any other factor.

The truth is that our young people are at risk. So, what can we do about it?

The answer is so simple: we can talk to them. We can teach them what healthy dating relationships look like.

Young people are stoked when caring adults talk to them about the emotional aspects of relationships. In fact, youth wish that trusted adults would talk with them more about healthy dating relationships! In the past, we had only our own anecdotal evidence to back-up that statement. But, luckily, in 2017 Harvard had our back!

The Harvard Graduate School of Education Study

We were so excited when we found out that a study from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project backed us up.

It turns out that, 65% of the youth they surveyed wished they’d had more guidance about relationships from school teachers. Wow!

I’m sure that if math, science, or English teachers heard that 65% of their students wanted them to talk more about a subject, they’d definitely deliver! Yet, most schools still don’t have designated time to talk with students about emotional aspects of healthy relationships.

In addition, the study found that over 70% of students wished their parents would talk to them about the emotional aspects of relationships and what it takes to love and be loved. That’s huge!

There aren’t enough conversations happening about how to have healthy dating relationships. Youth are hungry and desperate to learn from the people they trust – parents and school teachers. If they don’t hear about it there, they’ll turn to other outlets.

Young people will talk with each other. This isn’t always a great idea since youth and their peers are generally all in the same boat – they’re still figuring out relationships, and they don’t always know what a healthy relationship SHOULD look like.

Youth also turn to social media, movies, TV, newspapers, and other online outlets. While some information out there is great, much of it isn’t. We hope that teenagers and tweens are finding websites like www.loveisrespect.org or www.teencentral.com, or even the Power Up, Speak Out! blog. But, that’s not usually the case.

Again, you might be asking, “What can I do about it?”

Talk with the young people in your life about healthy relationships.

Have “The Talk” …. And Then Have It Again ….. And Again …. And Again (you get the picture)

You’ll notice that the young people in the Harvard Study weren’t that interested in sex education. That’s because youth are smart. They know that relationships are about waaaaaaay more than sex.

We believe that students DO need to be taught about concepts like consent and respecting boundaries. But, those should be lessons that are part of a holistic approach to relationships – emotional boundaries are just as important as physical ones. And consent should be applied to more places than just a physical relationship. A quick example, if a significant other doesn’t want to have their picture posted on social media, their partner should respect that boundary and not post that picture without their consent.

So, when we (and Harvard) are encouraging teachers, school counselors, parents, and other caring adults to have “The Talk” with young people, we’re not talking about sex. Young people have other, equally important questions.

And that’s what we want you to talk about – TALK ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP ASPECTS YOUNG PEOPLE WANT TO TALK ABOUT!

Ask your students or your children what questions they have about relationships. If you let them know you want to have open, honest conversations with them to help them learn about and be prepared for romantic relationships in their future, our guess is that you’re going to be inundated with questions.

But, if you can’t get your students or your child to open up with questions about relationships, start with some of the topics below – they show up in the youth we work with as well as in the youth who were surveyed for the Harvard study. Under each suggestion, we’ve included resources to help you think about or further the discussion with youth.

You’ve Got This

We understand that talking with youth about relationships can be scary. We worry about not having the “right” thing to say. We don’t want our students or our own children to make the same mistakes we did. So, we worry about talking about our dating experiences or lack thereof.

All of these feelings are normal! But, trust us, your lifetime of experiences will help you talk about the tough topics. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that – let’s find out together.” Remind yourself that there is a wealth of resources out there – from books to blogs to organizations like ours – that can help you.

Use the resources above, and check out the ones below, too! Your conversations don’t have to be perfect. You might not be able to save your students or your own children from every heartbreak or bad situation. But, you can at least help them understand that they DESERVE healthy relationships. And every human being who understands that is one more voice in the wilderness helping others to know how to survive.

FURTHER RESOURCES

5 Tips for Parents: Guiding Teens and Young Adults in Developing Healthy Romantic Relationships from Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project

What’s Love Got to Do With It? Video Series from Loveisrespect.org

In Healthy Relationships: I Have Fun from Power Up, Speak Out!

In Healthy Relationships: I Can Say No from Power Up, Speak Out!