Focusing on Healthy Teen Relationships

Unhealthy dating relationships can start early and can affect teens in many ways for years to come. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors, such as binge drinking, suicide attempts or fighting, and can carry patterns of unhealthy dating behaviors into future relationships.

Victims of teen dating violence also are more likely to struggle academically. In fact, when Arne Duncan was chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, he identified domestic violence as a leading reason teen girls drop out of Chicago area high schools.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It can occur in person or electronically, between current or former dating partners.

Break the Cycle points out that any teen or young adult can experience violence, abuse or unhealthy behaviors in their dating relationships. A relationship may be serious or casual, monogamous or not, short-term or long-term. Dating abuse does not see gender, sexual identity, economic status, ethnicity or religious preference.

Awareness, education and empowerment are essential tools in combating teen dating violence says Heather Flett, AM, LCSW, Program Manager at Metropolitan Family Services. Flett partnered with Dr. Beth Catlett, Director of the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community at DePaul University, in 2004 to create Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships. Take Back the Halls is a dating violence prevention and community activism program. Students participating in the program learn about the types of relationship violence, examine the dynamics of healthy relationships, learn about available resources to help and are empowered to get involved in community projects that advocate for healthy, safe relationships.

“One of the main goals of Take Back the Halls is to provide teens with the information, support and encouragement they need to make healthy relationship choices,” Flett said. “It’s also about creating leaders who can help peers and others do the same.”

Several area high schools have instituted Take Back the Halls programs, including Hubbard High School in West Lawn, Kennedy High School in Garfield Ridge and Evanston Township High School.

Metropolitan also has the Family Violence Intervention Program at the Calumet, Midway, and North centers. This program provides individual, group, and family counseling to both teen and adult survivors of domestic violence and their children. Early intervention services to child witnesses helps young people learn healthy coping and relationship skills before they enter dating relationships.

For more information, contact Flett at 773-884-2202 or