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Teaching Healthy Teen Relationships

An interview with Kelly Miller, Executive Director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, on the Love What’s Real campaign.

1)        How did the Love What’s Real campaign begin?

In the last decade, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence has been actively addressing adolescent relationship abuse[i] and sexual assault.  We began the youth engagement work because what we know for sure is that violence is preventable and, as adults, we are responsible for the safety and emotional well-being of adolescents.  Most importantly, we know we need to encourage the active and sustained engagement of young people in the creation of their own future through increasing participation in socially meaningful activities to promote positive development, especially in areas such as youth leadership, civic engagement, and youth organizing.  Communities benefit from the innovations and perspectives young people bring to organizations, activities, and relationships with adults.  By providing opportunities for young people to be engaged in the development and implementation of meaningful programs and organizing, we can enhance their ability to establish a sense of autonomy and power, improve their decision-making and leadership skills, and most importantly, help them develop a sense of belonging.

The Idaho Coalition implements a comprehensive prevention approach rooted in an understanding of the social-ecology, or in other words, the real world in which we live.  Young people learn skills for healthy relationships in various environments – at home, in peer groups, at school, in the broader community, and in society.  Parents, friends, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and other adults in adolescents’ lives each have important roles to play in shaping healthy relationships, as do broader societal influences like media that shape social and cultural norms.  The social ecological model considers this synergy between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors.  By implementing prevention strategies that promote positive youth development, healthy relationships and other outcomes at each of the levels of the social ecological model, communities and schools can reduce and prevent abusive behaviors and sexual assault.

2)        What are your methods for encouraging youth to submit poetry for the booklet you publish? How many submissions a year do you average?

We are in our 5th annual Love What’s Real writing challenge, and had over 2,500 submissions this year from middle/junior high school and high school.  Each year we develop prompts with a team of teens, writing instructors, and Idaho Coalition staff to find the prompts that young people are most interested in – this year teens could write about the importance in trust in a relationship, self-esteem, and communication.  We recognized the top 100 authors in both the high school and middle school/junior high categories and publish cool books that we distribute to every secondary school in the state.  We celebrate the book publishing with the Power of Words, a poetry slam, where we have had over 450 teens and parents attend each year, reaching capacity at the venue.

3)        What do you consider the most successful aspect(s) of Love What’s Real?

Youth activism!  The Idaho Coalition regularly works alongside high school and college teen activists to create innovative campaign strategies, and to keep our work real.  Young people are the experts of their environment and culture and in order to develop relevant, engaging, and effective strategies, young people take the lead in our organization.  We firmly believe that youth engagement is a strategy that provides young people opportunities to better understand themselves, their relationships, and the community around them.  Young people are active participants in creating healthy relationships for themselves and role models for their peers.  They are critical thinkers, researchers, and partners in identifying innovative solutions.  Young people are a valuable resource in prevention initiatives and should be actively involved in all aspects of your program.  Incorporating young people’s voices, needs, and lived experiences in all aspects of planning and decision-making is vital to our success, especially youth from marginalized or disenfranchised groups.

4)        What words of advice do you have for youth workers who are hoping to foster healthy teen relationships?

We encourage youth to look to peers and adults who have healthy relationships rooted in respect, equity, trust, and other characteristics of healthy relationships. Learn skills for healthy communication (negotiation, delay, and refusal skills), responsible decision-making, positive bystander behavior, and social activism.  We also have information for youth on our youth developed website www.lovewhatsreal.com.

5)      Are there any new initiatives by the Center for Healthy Teen Relationships you’d like to highlight?

Yes!  Our Revolution: A Movement Building Conversation With Teens to End Violence was created for February’s National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.  Please forward this conversation guide to organizations and allies that work to end violence against women and girls and encourage them to facilitate a conversation with a group of high school students.  Adapt the conversation guide to your community!  Activists can order free copies of the conversation guide (and other materials) while supplies last.

During the months of February, March, and April, 75 activists, advocates, or allies who facilitate a conversation and answer a brief survey will be randomly selected for a $100 incentive.  Each month we will select up to 25 persons to receive the incentive for a total of 75 incentives.  For those who are selected, our hope is that they will use the incentive towards developing a personal practice that will nurture self-care to sustain their energy over a lifetime of activism.


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