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“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” – Alice Walker.
Relationships and friendships can be a tricky path for anyone to navigate. As youth become older and gain more autonomy, relationships outside of one’s family structure become so important. But how do you know someone is your friend? What kinds of characteristics do you look for in a friendship? And when do you know if a relationship has become unhealthy or abusive?
Last month we focused on identifying the influential others in our lives and how they can have an impact, both positive and negative, on our decision making.
Module 4: Peers and Healthy Relationships gives youth a chance to define terms such as peer influences, peer pressure, cliques, and crowds. It also allows youth to identify qualities that they seek out in friendships as well as have real discussions about what a healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationship may look like.
During the first activity, youth examine the differences between peer influence and pressure. This is when a person close to their age shapes their decisions or actions.
By offering some real life examples, youth can talk about how they have dealt with peer pressure in their own lives. They even get a chance to do an activity that shows them what pressuring another peer can look like.
Our friends can be some of the most important people in our lives. These are usually people that we grow to confide in and trust. Just like romantic relationships, friendships require understanding and good communication.
During the second activity, youth fill out a “Qualities in a friend that are important to me” worksheet that gives them a chance to think about what they want in a friendship. This is also a time we talk about how people can grow apart.
As we grow older, the qualities that we find important in a friend can sometimes change. Some of our friendships may come and go, but others will stay around forever.
Especially in a school setting, cliques are something youth deal with on a regular basis. Cliques and crowds are groups that have exclusive members and usually share a common interest or trait. Members of these groups may play the same sport or like the same music.
Cliques can be difficult to handle, especially if a youth doesn’t belong to one or has been excluded from a group before. The purpose of this third activity is to demonstrate the impact cliques can have. While a crowd can provide support, it’s also important for youth to think about how it can be hurtful if they are purposefully excluding others.
Lastly, we take a look at recognizing characteristics of healthy, unhealthy, and abusive traits in both peer and romantic relationships.
We all have relationships with our friends, family, and romantic partners. Everyone deserves to be in a safe and healthy relationship, but this isn’t the reality for everyone. In the last activity, youth are able to identify these different types of relationships and get a chance to think about the relationships they have made with others. Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect, which means you make decisions together and can openly discuss whatever you’re dealing with.
Unhealthy and abusive relationships are based on power and control. This may mean someone is trying to control your decisions or who you hang out with. Very obvious forms of abuse can be physical, but emotional and mental abuse can leave just as many scars.
These topics can bring up some difficult feelings for youth but it is so important to create a safe place for youth to talk about these subjects.
If you know a youth who is worried about a relationship, there is help available. You can always talk with an NRS liner at 1-800-RUNAWAY or 1800RUNAWAY.org. You can also chat with an advocate to learn about different options at loveisrespect.org.