Friday, April 18, 2014

MCFARLAND: Supporting smart teen relationships

By REBECCA MCFARLAND, Reaching Out | 10/30/2013

Earlier this month, I wrote about an alarming statistic — one in three youths report being victims of domestic violence. The research I cited showed both boys and girls who engaged in high rates of bullying toward other students at the start of the study (in middle school) were seven times more likely to report being physically violent in dating relationships four years later.

Dating is a normal and important part of teen development. For younger teens, dating is more about having fun, hanging out with peers, and exploring what they like. As teens get older, they are more likely to become involved in exclusive dating relationships. For older teens, dating begins to focus more on companionship, sharing thoughts and feelings, and social support. Dating is an opportunity for teens to learn about themselves, and what they want in a future long-term committed relationship. Forming healthy relationships can help teens learn important skills such as cooperation, appropriate behavior, compromise, sensitivity and the ability to understand others’ feelings. These skills can lead to future healthy relationships in adulthood. On the other hand, unhealthy relationships can put teens at risk for early sexual activity, depression and forming poor social skills.

Earlier this month, I wrote about an alarming statistic — one in three youths report being victims of domestic violence. The research I cited showed both boys and girls who engaged in high rates of bullying toward other students at the start of the study (in middle school) were seven times more likely to report being physically violent in dating relationships four years later.

Dating is a normal and important part of teen development. For younger teens, dating is more about having fun, hanging out with peers, and exploring what they like. As teens get older, they are more likely to become involved in exclusive dating relationships. For older teens, dating begins to focus more on companionship, sharing thoughts and feelings, and social support. Dating is an opportunity for teens to learn about themselves, and what they want in a future long-term committed relationship. Forming healthy relationships can help teens learn important skills such as cooperation, appropriate behavior, compromise, sensitivity and the ability to understand others’ feelings. These skills can lead to future healthy relationships in adulthood. On the other hand, unhealthy relationships can put teens at risk for early sexual activity, depression and forming poor social skills.

Parents play a very important role in helping teens learn what is healthy in a relationship and what is not. Parents also can help teens better understand the feelings they experience and how to manage them. It’s important to teach them how to develop positive or healthy relationships.

Use these seven principles of smart relationships when talking to your teen:

• Seek a good match (someone with common interests): Great relationships are built on common ground. Do you have similar interests and enjoy doing things together? Do you enjoy talking to each other and do you find each other interesting? Do you have similar attitudes about school and future goals?

• Pay attention to values: Do you have similar values and priorities? Are the values and moral-ethical or religious beliefs you hold most dearly shared and respected by this person?

• Don’t try to change someone he or she is not: Accept each other’s basic personalities exactly the way they are. Never think you can change someone. Also, don’t be so desperate to be in a relationship or friendship that you fool yourself about who this person really is.

• Don’t change yourself to get someone’s love or friendship: Don’t try to pretend or be somebody or something you are not just to gain the other person’s love, friendship or acceptance. The key to a good relationship is being the real you and looking for people who like you for the person you are. You cannot maintain a satisfying relationship or friendship if you are not true to yourself.

• Expect good communication: Explore your differences and pay attention to how you both deal with conflict. How well do you communicate? How do you handle anger? Is there willingness to learn and improve communication skills? Remember, how you communicate and handle conflict says a lot about your future happiness in this relationship.

• Don’t play games, be phony, or pressure someone: Don’t manipulate or push someone to be in a relationship. Don’t pressure or use a power advantage to get someone to do something for which they are not comfortable.

• Expect respect (have standards for what you expect): Have a standard for how you want to be treated and talked to. Expect respect for your values and boundaries regarding drugs, alcohol, and sex from a dating partner. Don’t tolerate disrespectful or abusive behavior.

Next time, I’ll share warning signs of abusive relationships. If you would like more information before then, call me at (785) 229-3520 or email rmcfarla@ksu.edu

Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County.

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