Seeing behavior patterns from healthy, to unhealthy

Giving adolescents the tools to evaluate relationship patterns promotes health for a lifetime.

Michigan State University Extension educators offer a tool through the BeSAFE initiative and curriculum called the Healthy Behavior continuum. Students identify given behaviors and patterns of behavior within a relationship along a continuum of healthy to unhealthy. This activity helps youth step out of their own shoes and see the way others are treated, or treat them, apart from the individual situations. When allowed the chance to create a visual standard of healthy behavior, they can compare friendships and intimate relationships that may be either healthy or unhealthy. It also gives them an opportunity for self-reflection regarding their treatment of others.

This same approach may be useful to parents and other adults working with young people. This activity helps by bringing down defensiveness by removing names. Difficult conversations can be made more productive and result in more responsiveness.

For example: A boyfriend is pressuring a girlfriend to limit time with friends, rather than argue about what you are seeing, try opening a discussion about how healthy or unhealthy the young person views the behavior. This may lead to a dialogue about how often it happens?, for what purpose?, and ultimately will allow the young person to make a decision about whether it should continue or not.

Another example would be disagreements with dating partners. Whether or not they are healthy or unhealthy often depends on the response. Healthy disagreements involve listening for understanding and trying to compromise. Unhealthy disagreements display uncontrollable anger, makes fun of ideas, screaming or belittling someone.

Relationships in our lives, including with friends, peers, dating and romantic partners, siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors and so many others are vital to our social and emotional health. No relationship is perfect all the time. Even the healthiest of relationships have difficult moments that we can learn to navigate in a healthy way. Discussing the relationship continuum can allow us to respond to difficult situations from a clearer, more centered state of mind.

Taking these issues to the next steps is the focus of the Safe Dates curriculum; 10 lessons focused on teens learning methods to develop healthy dating relationships including positive communication, anger management and conflict resolution.

For more information on MSU Extension bullying prevention programs in communities and out-of-school youth settings contact an expert in your area, visit msue.anr.msu.edu/county or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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