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What I Learned About Teenagers this Week…

It has been a very exciting week at the Domestic Violence Network because I had the opportunity to talk with two groups of teenagers about dating violence and healthy relationships. My experience with youth as a pastor and teacher gave me confidence as I prepared for the workshops, but I was nervous about presenting this material. I was worried they would stare blankly as they listened to a stranger talk about relationships or they would do the opposite and over share their experiences which would make everyone very uncomfortable. Luckily, neither of those things happened, but I did learn a few things.

 

1. Teenagers want to talk about relationships. Arguably, the central pre-occupation of American teenagers is love, or the feelings of romance. To them, relationships are exciting, they are exploring new parts of themselves and new ways of interacting with peers. While talking to these groups of students, it took a few minutes of self-deprecating, corny jokes to build trust, but once I did, they opened up and began to share.

2. Before teenagers will trust an adult, they try to shock us! It has been my experience, that some teenagers will test adults by mentioning topics that normally would shock us. When discussing abusive relationships, a youth said, “I disagree, I like my intercourse rough.” Normally, hearing a teenager say something like that sends me into a flush of red, sweat pours down my forehead, and I quickly change the subject. Instead, I calmly explained the difference between physical abuse and what she was describing. After that, she began opening up about past relationship abuse which led to a very good conversation.

3. Modeling good behavior is crucial. We know children and teenagers watch us, even when we wish they wouldn’t, which is why we must model good relationships. This responsibility is not only for parents, but for educators, service providers, and adults interacting with youth. Unfortunately, not all children have good parental role models who demonstrate healthy relationships, but they can have teachers, faith leaders, and extended family members who do.

It was a great week at DVN, I feel very fortunate to have this position which allows me to impact the lives of youth and members of the community.