Teens redefine relationships
BY LYNN SCHUSTERMAN
Saturday, February 14, 2009
2/14/09 at 3:24 AM
Teens often turn to their friends for relationship advice, but do they always get the help they need? Only half of today's young people say they recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship: jealous rages, sexual pressure, codependency, alcohol and drug abuse, public or private humiliation and other negative behaviors. Many teens experience relationship trauma alone and afraid, and too often, they grow accustomed to the abuse.
This is a concern gaining increased attention around the country. Recently, after a teenage girl was murdered when she attempted to break up with her boyfriend, ABC News aired a segment on the prevalence of abusive relationships among teens. Rhode Island and Texas have both adopted legislation to address this issue, and school systems around the country now recognize that this is a subject that affects the classroom directly.
Teens don't always know what to do when they are subjected to verbal or physical abuse. Sometimes, they misinterpret jealousy and control as acceptable, even desirable, aspects of a relationship. And, they may not recognize abusive behaviors for what they are: violence.
Teens from the Youth Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) created the "redefine" program to help other Tulsa-area youth identify and avoid abusive dating relationships. Working with local advisors in education and wellness, the teens created a curriculum promoting healthy relationships, targeting 8th and 9th grade students. They designed and launched a Web site (www.letsredefine.com) packed with facts, local resources and stories from teens who have successfully redefined their dating behaviors. Through the Web site, teenagers and their parents can pose questions and get answers from qualified therapists and counselors.
What distinguishes this approach from most others is that it is led by teens, designed by teens, and carried out by teens. Adults provide oversight and guidance but the teens from YPI are offering their peers the resources they need to make healthy decisions in their relationships.
As someone who helps young adults become leaders, I can tell you that the results of such investments are always surprising — and rewarding. The YPI teens, for example, are adamant that whatever solutions they provide, they need to stress a positive outlook. They don't want their peers to fear dating; they want to affirm a healthy way for teens to date and interact without dread and negativity.
That struck me. Sometimes, adults will drive home a message of danger and risk to our kids on a range of issues and let's face it, as a parent and grandparent, it is perfectly natural to fear the worst. We read about a horrific accident or an act of violence and pledge to never let our own child face the same risk — even if it means overreacting and preventing our children from experiencing life.
In the development of "redefine," the YPI group has chosen to take a more positive approach to experiences and choices. They pushed to make sure the program was powerful. A single statement on the redefine Web site reads: "Silence gives violence power." The YPI teens understand that the single worst reaction to abusive relationships is none at all. Put simply, in today's succinct vernacular of sound bytes and tag lines, redefine's message is "new rules — better relationships."
Lynn Schusterman heads the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and currently serves on the advisory boards of the Foundation for Tulsa Schools and the Parent Child Center of Tulsa.
Lynn Schusterman: The YPI teens understand that the single worst reaction to abusive relationships is none at all.