Teens and young adults: What love is, and is not


By Jana Gill

Special to The SUN

While I was sitting at home last Sunday with my 16-year-old watching the snow fall, she and I started talking about Valentine’s Day.

The stores are filled with red hearts, chocolates and ridiculously-thin airbrushed models on magazine covers. Obviously, those models aren’t eating any of those Valentines’ chocolates.

In fact, they don’t look like they eat much of anything. What message is she getting about what love is?

So, what do young teens and young adults in Pagosa Springs think love is about?

Even though examples of unequal relationships are all over the place, especially in the media, real love is mutual respect. Relationships where one partner overpowers the other aren’t really love — and they can lead to violence.

Relationship violence is not just a problem for adults. One in three adolescents in the U.S. will be a victim of physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a dating partner. Nearly 80 percent of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser. And two-thirds of teens who are in an abusive relationship never tell anyone about the abuse.

One question that usually comes up is, why doesn’t someone experiencing abuse just leave? Why do some teens stay in abusive relationships? It’s a simple question with a complicated answer.

Adolescents are still figuring out new, more grown-up emotions and behaviors. Someone may tell you that the reason they’re doing something that hurts you is “because I love you.” Having a popular boyfriend or gilrfriend may seem more important than how they treat you. It can be hard to sort this out.

Other factors have to do with the damage caused by being in an abusive relationship. Recent studies have shown that girls who experienced dating violence were more prone to binge drinking, smoking and suicidal thoughts, compared with teens in healthy relationships. Boys in unhealthy relationships reported more suicidal thoughts and criminal behaviors — damaging property and theft, for example — than boys not in aggressive dating relationships. Being in an unhealthy relationship can cause lasting harm for everyone involved.

Do you have a friend that is in such a relationship? How could you bring it up with them?

Representatives of the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program (ACVAP) will be at Pagosa Springs High School during lunch Friday, Feb. 22, to talk more about how we can help and support our friends, and how to use the LOVES acronym — Listen, Options, Value, Empower, Safety.

• Listen — Quietly listen to their whole story, be understanding and non-judgmental.

• Options — Give them resources such as ACVAP’s hotline, loveisrespect.org, which has 24/7 peer counseling, or a trusted adult that they can talk with, like a school counselor, teacher or coach. In a dangerous situation, contact law enforcement at 911 — a protective order may be necessary.

• Value — Tell them how much you care about them. Tell them “It’s not your fault,” or “You don’t deserve this,” or “You deserve to have respect/communication/trust in your relationship.” Focus on them, not the abuser.

• Empower — Let them make their own decisions, be there to support them or go with them to talk to an adult, give them their options but don’t tell them what to do.

• Safety — Think about safety for yourself as well as for them. Don’t put yourself in the middle, especially if their abuser might try and harm you. Talk to an advocate about how to keep them safe, and safety plans. (Courtesy of Alternative Horizons of Durango.)

To talk about these issues or a safety plan, call ACVAP’s 24-hour hotline at 264-9075.

This Valentine’s Day, let’s all think about what healthy love is.