Puppy love offers valuable relationship lessons — both good and bad

Do you know what makes a healthy dating relationship? What are right and wrong behaviors to show toward your boyfriend or girlfriend? Do you think that he or she must love you since they are always jealous and need to know where you are at all times?

Adolescence is a period of transition that involves biological, cognitive, psychological and social changes. Teens spend much time reflecting on, talking about and being in romantic relationships. Parents, mostly out of concern, dismiss teenage love. But for the teen, it is an important part of growing up.

According to Teenage Research Unlimited, half of all teens report havingdated and one-third said they have been in a serious relationship. These early relationships play a pivotal role in the adolescent’s growth, which includes developing the capacity for long-term, committed relationships in adulthood. Being in romantic relationships can help teens strengthen their sense of self-identity, develop interpersonal skills and provide emotional support.

While healthy relationships have many potential benefits for young people, unhealthy ones pose risks that have lasting impact. Teens are especially vulnerable to becoming involved in relationships that include dating violence and risky sexual activity.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control says teens report dating abuse more often than any other age group. Adolescents in relationships are at high risk for experiencing verbal, emotional and physical abuse from their partners.

Being in a romantic relationships also put teens at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Based on a report by Bouchey and Furman, the strongest predictor for having sexual intercourse in seventh to 12th grades is recent involvement in a romantic relationship.

For teens, this is a crucial time to learn the difference between a healthy romantic relationship and an unhealthy one. According to Advocates for Youth, being in a healthy relationship means:

• Loving and taking care of yourself, before and while in a relationship.

• Respecting individuality, embracing differences and allowing each person to “be themselves.”

• Doing things with friends and family and having activities independent of each other.

• Discussing things, allowing for differences of opinion and compromising equally.

• Expressing and listening to each other’s feelings, needs and desires.

• Trusting and being honest with yourself and each other.

• Respecting each other’s need for privacy.

• Respecting sexual boundaries and being able to say no to sex.

• Resolving conflicts in a rational, peaceful and mutually agreed-upon way.

These are common signs that you are in an unhealthy relationship:

• You only care for and focus on another person and neglect yourself, or focus only on yourself and neglect the other person.

• You feel pressure to change to meet the other person’s standards. You are afraid to disagree, and your ideas or criticized, or you pressure the other person to meet your standards and criticize his/her ideas.

• One of you has to justify what you do, where you go and who you see.

• One of you makes all the decisions and controls everything without listening to the other’s input.

• One of you feels unheard and is unable to communicate what you want.

• You lie to each other and find yourself making excuses for the other person.

• You don’t have any personal space and have to share everything with the other person.

• Your partner has forced you to have sex or you have had sex when you don’t really want to, or you have forced or coerced your partner to have sex.

• One or both of you yells and hits, shoves or throws things at the other in an argument.

By helping teens develop skills that support healthy relationships, the risk associated with them can decrease. Through community programs, counseling professionals, support of a parent or another responsible and qualified adult, youth can learn about the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship, gender-based stereotypes, conflict management and communication.

• Tram Vuong Meadows is the Therapeutic Foster Home Program Therapist for Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i. She can be reached at tmeadows@haleopio.org, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu’e, HI 96766.

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