Youthlink News

Let's Talk about Healthy Relationships

Everyone has relationships. Why is it that most people don’t talk about healthy relationships? Why don’t we learn about how to have relationships at school like we do in subjects like math or science?

Mom, what does healthy relationships mean? Today, the teacher at YouthLink told me to talk with you about what a good relationship looks like ‘cause it’s important…

For many, defining our values around healthy relationships is not something many of us have done for ourselves, much less with our children or other family members.

Everyone has relationships.

Everyone has relationships. Why is it that most people don’t talk about healthy relationships? Why don’t we learn about how to have relationships at school like we do in subjects like math or science?

Did your parents sit down with you and talk about what good, healthy relationships look like, sound like and feel like? Have you done this with your kids? Culturally, it seems we often don’t talk about relationships at all and when we do, this conversation is often prompted by someone who is experiencing an unhealthy relationship; like dating violence or bullying at school. At this point, it’s a little late.

Well, let this conversation start now.

At the YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre, we love to talk about healthy, positive relationships every day. Our favourite audience to talk about relationships with is with kids, and they are so happy and enthusiastic to talk about them!

Relationships matter.

We at YouthLink believe that relationships matter. Research is telling us more and more how truly important relationships are. Relationships have been found to directly impact early brain development and thus are essential for positive child and youth development. They are also central to the well-being and safety of our schools and communities and everyone in them.

Domestic Violence hurts us all.

Family or domestic conflict and violence includes many different forms of abuse, mistreatment and neglect that adults or children may experience. It has been widespread and happening behind closed doors for far too long. It is often not spoken about aloud, if at all, enabling it to exist unimpeded because we are reluctant and scared to address it head on. This problem affects us all on some level and no one group or community is immune. Anyone regardless of gender, age, race, cultural background, sexual orientation, social or economic status can experience domestic conflict and violence. It’s also important to note that a number of groups are at a significantly greater risk of domestic violence, like First Nations, LGBT people, newcomers to Canada, seniors, women and children.

A growing body of knowledge and research is telling us that domestic violence is preceded by dating violence, bullying and aggression in adolescence and childhood. Domestic violence can effectively be passed down through generations. Those who see or experience family violence as children are more likely to become abusers or abused themselves later in life. Lessons in power and aggression learned early in life are perpetuated later in life on the playground, in teen dating relationships, the workplace and into the families and homes of our communities (3).

The Department of Justice for Canada says that “domestic violence is not just an individual, private or family matter; it is a pervasive and complex societal problem in Canada.”(1).

Domestic Violence in Alberta

Recent studies report that Alberta has the second highest rate of self-reported spousal violence in Canada and has the 5th highest rate of police reported intimate partner violence (1). For the last decade self-reported domestic violence has remained among the highest in Canada (1). “In fact, every hour of every day, a woman in Alberta will undergo some form of interpersonal violence from a partner or ex-partner” (1).

Aside from devastating physical, emotional, and financial tolls domestic violence and abuse has on victims and families, which can result in long-lasting psychological and social effects, the ongoing costs to Albertans is significant (1, 2). It’s estimated that, in the last 5 years alone, the cost to Alberta taxpayers of addressing domestic violence exceeds 1.0 billion dollars (1).

Everyone has a role in family violence prevention.

Family violence is a complex social issue that everyone has a role and stake in ending. Researchers from the University of Calgary dedicated to ending domestic violence note that, “No single organization or sector is going to solve family violence” (2). We have to work together to promote healthy relationships and therein reduce the sad and unfortunate rates of family violence.

The role of Alberta Government is to provide legislative and policy frameworks and funding to support ending family violence. They can also support and facilitate collaboration between all groups of people to achieve these goals.

The private sector plays an important role by supporting their employees’ families with relevant policies and supports, promoting healthy relationships internally. They can also provide leadership in their communities by making charitable donations to organizations promoting healthy relationships and preventing family violence. As such, we at YouthLink Calgary are incredibly grateful and proud to be supported by many of our important donors like Enbridge who has specifically sponsored our Healthy Relationships program and learning space here at our interpretive centre.

Service providers, like the Calgary Police Service (CPS), deliver critical front-line services and supports to those experiencing family violence, including dedicated teams and units like the Domestic Conflict and Victim Assistant Units. CPS also leads, supports and builds the capacity of Calgary communities to prevent family violence with phenomenal early intervention and prevention education programs like MASST (Multi-Agency School Support Team), YARD (Youth at Risk Development Team), ISSP (Integrated School Support Team) and by partnering with organizations like YouthLink Calgary.

Community-based organizations, leaders and groups help by improving community connections, and informing, influencing and leading community change.

You have an important role in preventing family violence and promoting healthy relationships.

Lastly and very importantly, the role of our neighbourhoods, families and us as individuals is to take personal responsibility for promoting healthy relationships, and to taking action to prevent and stop family violence from occurring. We can all be engaged citizens, stand up to family violence, and support family, friends and neighbours to get help when they need it.

By speaking out, standing up against violence and abuse, and promoting healthy relationships with all people, especially our young people, we can stop the transmission of violence from one generation to the next (2).

What can you do?

Talk about it. After one of your children visits us at YouthLink, continue the conversation about what healthy relationships look like at the dinner table for all to hear and participate in. Or, you could start a new conversation about healthy relationships! Talk out loud about what we all want and value in healthy, positive relationships. Help everyone establish his or her own values about healthy relationships. Help brainstorm these values, and encourage journaling about it.

Model and promote healthy relationships. Our young ones are watching us, learning by what they see around them. Teach relationship and communication skills. Teach empathy, compassion, understanding, and kindness.

Spend some time talking about unhealthy relationships. Teach your kids that violence is never acceptable under any circumstances. Identify what are characteristics of unhealthy relationships and what these behaviours looks like so we can all recognize them. We all need to be aware of these characteristics so we can identify them and get help. Understand that no relationship is without conflict, but what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy is how we approach and resolve inevitable conflict.

It’s also critical that we normalize and encourage help-seeking behaviours and encourage asking for help. Sometimes we need help to learn how to communicate or act better in relationships. We all have things we could learn about having healthier relationships and there are numerous resources out there to help us, but we have to look for them and access them. Help remove the shame, fear and stigma of accessing supports and resources, like counselling services. Even adults need help with relationships too.

We are all responsible for the quality of children’s relationship experiences and what and how they learn about positive, healthy relationships!

Take ownership of this responsibility. Be accountable for your own relationships. Prevent family violence by responding when you see it and continually promoting healthy relationships.

Together we can stop and prevent family violence.

Family Violence Resources and Community Connections:

Family & Sexual Abuse Network

Family Violence Info Line 310-1818 (Alberta Government)

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, publications

Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre

Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence

Public Health Agency of Canada, Stop Family Violence

References:

(1) Wells, L., and Boodt, C. (2012). Preventing Domestic Violence in Alberta: A Cost Saving Perspective. Calgary, AB: The University of Calgary: The School of Public Policy 5 (17)

(2) Wells, L., Ferguson, J., & Interdepartmental Committee on Family Violence and Bullying. (2012). Family Violence Hurts Everyone: A framework to end family volence in Alberta [A source document]. Calgary, AB: The University of Calgary, Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence.

(3) Wells, L., Campbell, K. and Dozois, E. (2014). A Strategy to Promote Healthy Youth Relationships in Alberta to Prevent Domestic Violence. Calgary, AB: The University of Calgary, Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence.

Written by Nick Moore, Program Manager, YouthLink

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