February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and we are highlighting part of our youth violence prevention program, SafeU. Read on to learn about what SafeU looks like in classrooms, directly from a Sojourner educator.
When Sojourner educators enter classrooms to discuss teen dating violence, we focus on identifying the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors exist on a spectrum, from healthy to unhealthy to abusive. To help students think critically about relationships (and have fun in the process), we lead an activity called “Behavior Flags.” Each student is given a set of three flags – red, yellow, and green. The facilitator gives examples of actions a partner could take, and students decide how healthy the behaviors are. Raising a red flag means something is unhealthy or abusive, and a green flag means it’s healthy. An important part of this activity is giving very clear examples of behaviors on either end of the spectrum. We want to reinforce healthy behaviors and name unhealthy behaviors. After raising their flags, students share why they categorized the behavior the way they did. Here are some examples of red and green flag behaviors:
At times, you feel physically or emotionally unsafe around your partner.
Your partner often unexpectedly shows up in where you are.
Your partner gives you gifts but asks for something in return, like favors or money.
Your partner supports your passions and encourages you to do the things you love.
Your partner makes an effort to get to get to know your friends and family.
You laugh and have fun with your partner.
But what does a yellow flag means? When students raise yellow flags, they often say “well, it depends.” They are considering the context of the behavior, like motivation for behavior or their own boundaries and comfort zones. Here are some examples of what we hear in classrooms:
Your partner texts you constantly: Some students are comfortable with receiving texts often, while others feel it is overwhelming. Typically, students also ask what the text messages say, commenting that some messages are okay while others aren’t. For example, students often share that texts asking where someone is or who they’re with would be unhealthy. Some feel that “nice” text messages are okay, such as asking about someone’s day. Key takeaways include the importance of setting boundaries, the importance of time apart and acknowledging that technology can be used as a tool for control.
The person you just started dating showers you with gifts and says they think they’re falling for you: Students often discuss motivation after this prompt. They want to know why this person is giving all these gifts, and they wonder whether they will be asked for something in return. Students often acknowledge that some people are just gift-givers, while others are using gifts to put pressure on their partners.
Your partner pressures you to dress a certain way: Students are often conflicted on this example. Some say that this could be controlling behavior from a partner. They recognize clothing as a form of self-expression and wonder why their partner would want to control it. Others point out that there may be inclement weather or special events that call for dress codes, like a school dance or a fancy dinner.
Helping teens identify unhealthy behaviors is a large part of preventing teen dating violence and domestic violence. We want to communicate clear messages about behaviors that are never okay and uplift the behaviors that are. Most importantly, we give students opportunities to practice checking in with themselves and to think about behavior critically. Students can think back to this activity if/when they enter relationships, giving them tools for identifying warning signs of abuse and empowering them to take action to protect themselves or others if necessary.