As we continue our conversation about Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s important to include conversations about adolescent or teen dating behaviors.  These early romantic or affectional explorations build a strong foundation for the future.  Unfortunately, many young people experience abuse and violence in their first or initial relationships – it’s on caring adults, educators, and practitioners to challenge harmful norms and offer new models for love, companionship, and connection.

One of the most powerful ways we can counter harmful social norms is by promoting positive connections, equality, and respect.  Although television, movies, video games, and other media can perpetuate harmful norms, it’s important to highlight pro-social or healthier models.  These can offer alternatives, as well as initiate conversation about ideal relationship traits.  Some of the examples we found:

  • Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt from Parks & Recreation. A couple we can love and like!  Leslie’s ambition and intelligence are never intimidating to Ben; in fact, that’s what sparked his initial attraction to her.  Their relationship is built on communication, friendship, support, and honoring the interests of the other.
  • Glenn Rhee and Maggie Greene from The Walking Dead. While the show has its fair share of violence and gore, Maggie and Glen share a powerful bond built on equality and mutual respect.  Glenn admires Maggie’s faith, (physical and emotional) strength, and her commitment to family.  Maggie loves Glenn for his honesty, leadership, and vulnerability.
  • Carl and Ellie from Up. What an adventure!  Carl and Ellie initially unite over a mutual love of adventure and explorer Charles Muntz, but stay together through life’s trials and tribulations because of their love for each other.

Having a hard time finding examples in TV shows, movies, or other media you’re consuming?  We can still think critically about portrayals of relationships.  Ask yourself and the people around you some of these questions:

  • Do the people involved compromise? Is everyone willing to compromise?
  • Is each person in the relationship supported when they act in gender non-conforming or expected ways? (For example, a young woman is ambitious about her education or career or a young man being a loving, caring, and attentive family member).
  • Are individuals in the relationship willing and able to admit wrong? Do they offer an apology for hurtful actions or behaviors without justifying or blaming the other person?
  • What is the communication like? Is one person doing most of the talking?  How does each person listen to the other when there’s a problem?
  • How is sex or sexual activity talked about? Is one person always the initiator or director of the relationship’s physical intimacy?