Healthy Teen Relationships
On Thursday, October 11th 2012, I represented the Hills/Valley Coalition for Resilient Youth at a program about Healthy Teen Relationships at Park Ridge High School. The presenter was Andy Yeager, Licensed School Psychologist, Student Assistance Counselor, and President of the local and state SAC Organization. The program was sponsored by the schools’ P.E.P. – Parents Educating Parents. Because I raised two teenagers and worked with numerous teens, I was aware of some of the information presented. However, Mr. Yeager’s presentation style, knowledge, candor and sensitivity to teen feelings were remarkable. I would like to share two topics that he discussed during the presentation: sacrifices that teens are willing to make to gain popularity and status among their peers, and understanding abusive relationships.
As you may know, a teen might engage in unacceptable behavior when yielding to peer pressure to gain status and popularity within a group. Peer pressure is very strong: frequently more subtle than direct. Mr. Yeager explained that the teen looking to become part of a group may be willing to make personal sacrifices which include health, safety, grade point average, morals, ethics, family and personal values, and old friendships. As parents, we must try to help our children understand the motives behind their actions. Teens frequently do not want to discuss what is bothering them most with their parents; sometimes, they may even try to cut off communication.
We know that conflict between generations has taken place for centuries. While “demonizing” our parents and cutting off communication may be part of the growing up process, we should never lose touch with our children. If you feel your teen is cutting off important communication with you, Mr. Yeager suggested connecting him or her with another adult that he or she respects – a grandparent, a family friend, a counselor. This is especially important if your teen is breaking up from a dating relationship from which he or she “must heal.”
Those of us who have never been involved in an abusive relationship may find it difficult to understand what keeps the abused in such a relationship. Mr. Yeager explained that the abusive relationship is about control, jealousy and insecurity. It is often difficult for the victim to leave the relationship because the abused may be predisposed to being taken advantage of due to family background , poor emotional coping skills, lack of a previous healthy relationship ,or misinterpreting the abuser’s controlling actions to be acts of care, kindness , love, or feelings of fear or guilt. This is why Mr. Yeager suggests that “we should never ask anyone in an abusive relationship: why didn’t you just leave?”
As parents, we must be aware of our children’s relationships, and their feelings. “Teens have heightened emotional intensity,” said Mr. Yeager. We must be tuned into our children’s social and emotional coping skills, as well as their social nuances. Being a parent of a teen is often like walking a tightrope. Our teens must feel we respect them, but at the same time we must set boundaries for acceptable behavior. We must always leave the communication door wide open. If our teen shuts the door, or if we feel he or she is involved in an unhealthy relationship, we must try to connect our child with a trusted family member, family friend, or counselor who is there to help.
When the program ended, and I left the auditorium with other parents, I regretted that I did not attend Andy Yeager’s program when my children were teens. For more information on how to start a P.E.P. group at your school, contact Andy Yeager at 201-573-6000 x5504 or e-mail AndrewYeager@parkridge.k12.nj.us For more information on the Hills/Valley Coalition for Resilient Youth go to www.hillsvalleycoalition.org
Ronnie B. Silver, Director
Adelphi Home Tutoring and SAT Services