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Empowering Teens to Have Healthy Relationships

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Empowering Teens to Have Healthy Relationships

When it comes to educating teens and young adults, we often focus on academics, but sometimes the most powerful lessons are soft skills – such as learning how to form and navigate healthy relationships.

What is a Healthy Relationship?

Tracey Olsen, the director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s (JFCS) Transition to Adulthood program, says that healthy relationships – whether it’s friends, family, romantic or others – help you to feel good about yourself.

“Healthy relationships have respect, trust and loyalty – you have each other’s backs,” she explains. “You treat others the way you want to be treated – it goes both ways. It’s not only about being a good friend, partner or family member, it’s about being treated as one as well.”

According to the Michigan State University Extension’s Building Strong Adolescents program, parents and caregivers can teach teens that healthy relationships happen when people care about each other, understand and respect one another, are responsible for each other, solve problems together and communicate honestly, and share some of the same goals and values.

On the flip side, unhealthy relationships involve manipulation and jealousy, negative attitudes and dishonesty, and blaming each other for their problems, cites the program.

“How to form and maintain healthy relationships is hard to teach; often teens and young adults have to put it into practice,” Olsen says. “It’s a daily thing – you have to think about what another person is experiencing and going through.”

When it comes to romantic relationships among teens and young adults, knowing what a healthy relationship looks like is vital. The American Psychological Association (APA) cites a study that found “up to 19% of teens experience sexual or physical dating violence, about half face stalking or harassment, and as many as 65% report being psychologically abused.”

The APA cites that there is a lot of research being done to reverse these alarming statistics.

Parents and caregivers can help teens recognize and participate in healthy relationships, especially romantic ones, by continuously emphasizing how to set healthy boundaries and communicate them. Experts note that that this includes practicing open dialogue and clear communication.

Of course, Olsen notes that parents, caregivers and loved ones should encourage teens and young adults to always come to them when issues arise – big or small.

The Importance of Healthy Relationships to Teens and Young Adults

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that positive friendships – and relationships of all sorts – provide youth with companionship, support and a sense of belonging. They also lay the foundation for successful adult relationships – including romantic ones – down the road.

Like all lessons we learn in our youth, knowing what healthy relationships look like benefit teens’ mental and physical health now and into adulthood. This applies even when mistakes are made.

“When there are issues, parents and caregivers need to be supportive and guide and mentor teens through them,” she continues. “When mistakes happen, talk through them – note consequences and what can be done differently next time. Don’t be afraid to help your teen navigate these challenges, they’re opportunities to learn skills they’ll need for life.”

No matter what relationship a teen or young adult is navigating, Olsen notes that the most important relationship that should be emphasized is the one you have with yourself.

“Everyone is their own unique person and it’s a lifelong journey to love yourself and respect yourself – a journey that starts young,” she says. “You need to put yourself first, respect yourself, believe in yourself and have a sound and healthy relationship with yourself. This will help you to have healthy relationships with others along the way.”