“There is a subconscious way of taking violence as a way of expression, as a normality, and it has a lot of effects (on) the youth in the way they absorb education and what they hope to get out of life.”- Salma Hayek
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what social class, gender or education you have. It can happen within any type of intimate relationship, and to people of all cultural backgrounds. October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which helps shed light on domestic violence that occurs within many families and intimate relationships. Domestic violence thrives on power, secrecy and shame; however, the more we shed light on the issue, the more we can empower ourselves and support one another.
As a clinical therapist, I had the opportunity to meet with adolescents and teenagers who shared their own experiences and views on healthy and unhealthy relationships. I asked questions that led to an informative and engaging discussion, and assisted them in processing their thoughts and feelings about relationships. Here are their responses.
What defines a healthy relationship for you?
Although there are many factors that contribute to a healthy relationship, all of the teens with whom I spoke identified communication as the most important part of a healthy relationship. Other aspects identified included honesty, healthy boundaries, trust, and respect.
What are some signs of an unhealthy relationship?
One teen shared their thoughts on what an unhealthy relationship could look like. “Arguing a lot and making threats to leave you or hurt you.” Another teen talked about distrust, verbally attacking someone and poor boundaries as signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Have you had examples of “unhealthy” relationships modeled in your life? What did those look like?
All of the teens with whom I spoke acknowledged having unhealthy relationships modeled to them at some point in their lives. Some examples included: fighting every day and not talking about their feelings, lying, cheating, not respecting each other, alienating someone, talking behind the other person’s back, and involving the child.
How do you think witnessing domestic violence impacts a child?
One teen shared how domestic violence has impacted their life. “It gave me a false idea of what love would look like”. Another teen talked about how impressionable children are. “Children may grow up thinking that love is defined by abusing someone or allow themselves to be abused because they think that’s what love is”.
Have you had examples of “healthy” relationships modeled in your life? What have those looked like?
All of the teens in our discussion group have had healthy relationships modeled for them. Grandparents, friend’s parents, and television characters are some examples of healthy relationships in their lives. Some of those were defined as healthy based on the couple’s openness with one another, playfulness, love, commitment, and trust.
What would you say to someone in an unhealthy relationship in order to help them?
One teen offered that they would tell someone that they don’t deserve to be treated that way. Another shared that they would remind the person of the support that they have and that whenever they are ready, to ask for help. One teen said they would simply say, “Know your worth.”
What would you want someone to say to you?
One teen shared that they would want someone to tell them that they deserve better and should leave the unhealthy relationship. Another shared that they’d want someone to be there for them and support them, even if, in the moment, they weren’t ready yet.
These questions also can be used by parents as a tool to help guide conversations about relationships with their own children and offer an opportunity to reflect on their relationships.
“Domestic violence can be so easy for people to ignore, as it often happens without any witnesses and it is sometimes easier not to get involved. Yet, by publicly speaking out against domestic violence, together we can challenge attitudes towards violence in the home and show that domestic violence is a crime and not merely unacceptable.”- Honor Blackman
National and Local Domestic Violence Resources
including 24-hour hotlines, shelters, and safety planning
Doris Pakozdi, AMFT, a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s San Pedro Clinic, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about helping youth build healthy relationships through empowerment and effective communication skills . Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Ms. Pakozdi worked with survivors of domestic violence facilitating the Domestic Violence Women’s Empowerment Group at 1736 Family Crisis Center. Ms. Pakozdi earned a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2019 at California State University, Dominguez Hills.