It’s also important that young people understand consent and have the skills to engage in healthy communication around sex and relationships.
By Anna Eskamani
When you think back to your first love, your first date, your first relationship, the memories may make you smile. Not everyone is fortunate in that way; it’s the unhappy truth that many young people find themselves in abusive or sexually coercive situations.
Teens experiencing dating violence – whether physical or emotional – are more likely to become pregnant and report an STD diagnosis. And while anyone can be the victim of violence, young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of dating violence, almost triple the national average. Our young people need to learn age-appropriate skills around healthy relationships, consent, and communication – as well as how to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships and how to leave an abusive relationship safely.
October is Let’s Talk Month and a great opportunity for families to talk about sexuality and relationships, including the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships and what constitutes consent. When teens and parents are comfortable talking with each other about relationships and sex, parents are better able to help their teens make healthy decisions.
Parents can help their children understand that a healthy relationship is one that makes you feel good about yourself and each other, and that makes you feel safe and respected. An unhealthy relationship is one in which one partner does hurtful things to get power or control over the other person, and may include physical violence, isolation from family and friends, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, stalking, and threats or coercion. Parents can also help young people who may be navigating a relationship figure out if their partner is being abusive, and if so, help them end the relationship.
It’s also important that young people understand consent and have the skills to engage in healthy communication around sex and relationships. Good communication skills are an important part of healthy sexual intimacy– silence is not consent. Saying “I don’t know” is not consent. Being pressured or manipulated into doing something is not consent.
As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood is committed to helping parents talk about healthy relationships and consent with their children at different ages. At Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida our education programs helps parents and teens open the lines of communication and encourages them to have ongoing conversations about sex and sexuality. We’re here to help, and we’re committed to making sure that parents and guardians can address decision making with their children, as well as their own beliefs and values about sexuality and relationships.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out “Talking About Consent and Healthy Relationships at Every Age.”
Pop culture that touches on sexuality issues can also help parents and adolescents have honest conversations about healthy relationships. Watching TV together or following the same TV shows can provide natural moments to spark conversations: Once you’re talking about characters’ relationships or storylines, it may be easier to ask questions about your teen’s values, behaviors, and beliefs. We also offer a television watch guide and a pop culture bingo card that parents can use to help spark conversations.
Rather than “the talk,” families need to have ongoing conversations that reflect a child’s age and development. We all want our communities to stay healthy and safe and to provide our young people with the tools to do so. It’s crucial that teens understand that this includes identifying healthy versus unhealthy relationships and what consent looks like.
For more information, check out Planned Parenthood.org, which has resources, guidance, and videos for parents and teens designed to make starting and continuing these conversations easier and richer.