GUEST BLOG: Helping Youth Create A+ Relationships — Corina Klies and Beth Malchus-Stafa, Ohio Department of Health


By: Guest Blogger

Editor’s Note: February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. To highlight this important issue, we asked Corina Klies and Beth Malchus-Stafa, from the Ohio Department of Health, to share some advice for how adults in education settings can help young people form healthy relationships. 

Heart.pngThink back to high school, college or your workplace. You easily can identify those relationships that are worth an A+ versus a D-. What makes up an A+ relationship? Many of the qualities needed in a healthy relationship are in the image to the right.

As a teacher, administrator, coach or parent volunteer, youth look to you to model qualities needed for healthy relationships. Positive relationships with youth create safe learning environments and reinforce examples of healthy relationships.

Often, adults feel they don’t know how to begin a conversation or have the skills to talk about dating violence. They feel more comfortable referring to the school policy or providing statistics: One in three girls and one in seven boys will experience dating violence before they are 18 years old. It’s easier to just put up a poster acknowledging Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month during February than it is to really discuss it.

While it is important that youth know the school policy for dating violence — and statistics, definitions and posters are great for raising awareness — it is more important for youth to learn the skills needed to maintain healthy relationships. These include mutuality, affection, courage, consent and accountability. These skills shouldn’t be relegated to a single class or learning session. These skills should be incorporated into daily experiences. In English classes, they can be part of book discussions, history classes can discuss conflict resolution, marching band teachers can provide tips on working together in a squad and student internships can teach good working relationships between supervisors and co-workers.

Adults also can demonstrate healthy relationship skills with teachable moments. A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises when a teacher or adult has an ideal chance to offer insight. While adults cannot prevent youth from making hurtful comments or protect them from unkind behaviors all the time, they can stop youth from making hurtful comments or demonstrating unkind behaviors in their presence.

Using teachable moments is an easy three-step process: see it, claim it, stop it.

See it means telling the youth and possibly those around who witness the behavior what you observed. Claim it means stating why it was offensive and possibly against your school’s student code of conduct or classroom rules. Stop it means turning the situation around and suggesting different behaviors. This model of intervening and re-teaching behavior is a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports strategy. 

Again, think back to high school, college or your workplace, how did you learn about A+ relationships? Maybe you didn’t and had to learn through trial and error. Healthy relationships are hard work, like learning to understand the Pythagorean theorem. Both take homework and repeated lessons over time. Here are some exercises for you to perfect the use of teachable moments.

Scenario A:

Someone is texting Greg during class. His cell vibrates several times. Ms. Shankleton gives Greg a detention. After class, Greg and his friend Kallia approach Ms. Shankleton to talk about how he received 35 texts this morning from his girlfriend. He doesn’t know how to tell her to stop. Greg shows Ms. Shankleton his girlfriend’s texts. They are about who he talks to; what he’s wearing; and why he’s late to walk her to her class. Ms. Shankleton follows the training she received on her school’s policies for anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying and teen dating.

What would you say to Greg? What would you say to Kallia, the upstander,? What does your school policy say you should do for Greg? How does your school policy use the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports strategy of intervening and re-teaching behavior to address the young woman’s (Greg’s girlfriend) texting? How does your school policy address electronic and technology in the context of teen dating abuse? What type of training is provided at your school to promote upstanding behavior? Does your school work with community agencies to provide referrals? How are parents involved?

Here are possible, responsible ways to respond to this scenario:

  • To Greg: “Thank you for telling me. I am sorry I didn’t understand what was happening. Repeatedly texting someone over and over like this is a form of dating violence This is a serious situation; can I go with you to the guidance counselor?”
  • To the upstander Kallia: “Thank you for being a concerned friend and coming with Greg to see me.”

Scenario B:

It’s Friday night and the band parents’ concession stand is winding down. Mr. Kepperly is grilling the last two hamburgers. He watches Adam single out a girl next to the wall of the concession stand. Adam calls her an offensive, derogatory name and asks why she is talking to Jackson. The girl is distressed and keeps saying: “It’s about our English project.” There is a crowd of youth growing around the two.

What would you say to Adam? What would you say to the crowd? What does your school policy say a parent volunteer should do to help Adam’s girlfriend? How does your school policy train parent volunteers? How does your school policy address teen dating violence at public events?

Here is a possible, responsible way to respond to this scenario:

  • To Adam: Mr. Kepperly goes up to the two and says: “Adam, I just heard you call her a name. In our school, we find this language offensive, and we don’t use that kind of language with each other. That behavior needs to stop, and you need to walk away.”
  • To the girlfriend: Mr. Kepperly asks if she is okay.  

Mentally practicing these scenarios can help make us more comfortable addressing these situations in real life. As adults who interact and work with youth, we must accept the responsibility to do more than memorize statistics and put up posters. We have the power to intervene when necessary and guide young people to forming positive, A+ relationships. The next time you witness inappropriate relationship behavior, don’t be afraid to see it, claim it and stop it.

Corina Klies works for the Ohio Department of Health overseeing a grant that focuses on providing culturally specific services to sexual assault survivors in the African/African-American, Asian/Asian-American and Latino/Hispanic communities.

Beth Malchus-Stafa is a public health consultant at the Ohio Department Health. She is a content expert in the area of bullying, teen dating violence, and sexual and intimate partner violence prevention.

Beth and Corina are members of the Ohio Department of Education Anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Initiative. To contact them, click here.

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