Relationships in person and online are important to your overall well-being. Healthy relationships can offer support, comfort, and improve your health – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Relationships come in all shapes and sizes, from the relationship between a child and parent/caregiver, the relationship between friends, a relationship with like-minded peers, to the relationship between partners, such as dating teens. There are also the relationships we have online, some of which are with people we may not know in real life or have yet to meet.
Unhealthy relationships can be damaging, and exist in person and online. Sometimes it isn't always easy for youth to realize that they are in an unhealthy relationship. They may see some of the warning signs of such a relationship as a sign of love from their friend or partner.
Monitoring all of our kids' online interactions with others is almost impossible, which is why it is important for adults to set the tone for healthy relationships with their kids. Social media and technology have an important part to play in fostering and nurturing healthy relationships. Maintaining an open line of communication with our kids about their online interactions, what constitutes a healthy relationship, and the signs of unhealthy relationships can help youth be more aware of inappropriate and unhealthy behaviour by their friends and their partners.
Empowering youth in their relationships – fact vs. fiction
How youth view relationships can be impacted by how they view the relationships of others, particularly on social media, in mainstream media, in movies, music, and in video games. The portrayal of gender and gender stereotypes can also impact our relationships. For many youth, in particular teens, relationships are cultivated through the use of technology and the picture-perfect image they see of the relationships of others, even if that image is not real.
Deciphering fact from fiction, reality versus scripted content may not always be easy given this age of information and its instant accessibility. It is important to talk with youth in their terms and in a safe and non-judgmental way about their relationships, how relationships are portrayed, what is real and what isn't, and to encourage youth to use critical thinking when consuming content and using social media. Empowering youth to question what they see, whether it is real or fabricated, will help in how they see themselves and others, and help them recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Talking with youth about relationships
ProtectKidsOnline has come up with the following tips for adults to use when talking with their kids about healthy relationships, which can also be applied to online relationships.
- Discuss the qualities of a healthy relationship (being kind, compassionate, loving, respectful) compared to unhealthy relationships (one person using guilt and pity tactics, is manipulative, or possessive). By understanding the differences, youth will be able to better see the signs of controlling behaviour.
- Talk with your kids about how to get out of an uncomfortable situation, using both direct and indirect approaches ways for them to get out of a touch situation. Let them know if they need help, they can reach out to you or another trusted adult.
- Use real-life examples. Stories in the media (TV, movies, music, the news) can help open up conversations on how they perceive relationships and their portrayal, and empower your teen to use critical thinking in their own relationships.
- Discuss sexting, sending photos and videos, and sexual conversations online. A photo, once sent, is out of the sender's control. The photo can be shared, shown to others, or used to coerce the other person into other sexual activity.
- Talk about setting and respecting boundaries while online and using technology. Discuss the importance of not sharing photos or videos without the other person's consent, and to respect what others have shared even after a relationship has ended.
- Discuss how to end a relationship, something that is never easy to do. Explain to your kid that it is important for them to be honest and thoughtful, yet to the point, when ending a relationship, and not to drag it out.
- Be there for them. Keep the lines of communication open. Let them know they can turn to you if they have questions or need help, and let them know that they can come to you without getting into trouble or fear of being judged.
What can I do if my teen is in an unhealthy relationship?
Learning that someone you care about may be in an unhealthy relationship can be difficult. Is there anything you can do to help? The first step in is with communication. The Canadian Women's Foundation, with Media Smarts, has developed a tip sheet about recognizing unhealthy online relationships, which includes tips on what to do if your teen is in an unhealthy relationship.
Here are their tips:
- Be supportive. Offer support in a non-judgmental way. Listen, don't blame, and let them know the abuse is not their fault.
- Be open about your concerns. Make sure you let them know you are on their side.
- Look at the options. Pushing them into leaving the relationship may not help. Encourage them to spend time with others as a way of distancing themselves from the relationship. Also, talk with your kid's friends to see if they have the same concerns.
- Talk with them about setting boundaries and good communication. Encourage them not to post or reply in anger, and to walk away from situation until they have cooled down.
- Seek out help. Your teen may need outside help, and that's OK. Encourage them to talk to a school counsellor, a friend, or calling a help line such www.kidshelpphone.ca (1-800-668-6868) can help. They may feel more comfortable talking with someone else about the problem. Let them know you are there for them and support them, and when and if they are ready to talk to you that you will listen.
Consent and age of consent
Talking about consent is very important when discussing healthy relationships with youth. The Premier's Action Committee on Family Violence Youth Engagement Working Group, through the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning, has developed the Microphone Project, an educational resource that is currently being used in PEI schools. Community Legal Information also has a resource on consent. It is important that youth and adults talk about consent, legal ages of consent, and the laws around consent.