I’ve been writing the past couple of months about teen relationships, more specifically about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. Dating violence is a serious problem in the United States, and it can have a negative effect on health throughout life. Teens who are victims are more likely to be depressed and do poorly in school. They might engage in unhealthful behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to have eating disorders. Teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college. 

Studies show that people who harm their dating partner are more depressed and are more aggressive than peers. Other factors that increase risk for harming a dating partner include:

• Trauma symptoms;

• Alcohol use;

• Having a friend involved in dating violence;

• Having problem behaviors in other areas;

• Belief that dating violence is acceptable;

• Exposure to harsh parenting;

• Exposure to inconsistent discipline; and

• Lack of parental supervision, monitoring and warmth.

With the above information, you can conclude relationships formed early in life, beginning in infancy, affect future relationships. For many of us, our first relationship is with our biological parent(s). The quality of the relationship between parents and young children is one of the most powerful factors in a child’s growth and development. The attachment relationship that a young child forms during the first two years of life takes time to develop. Typically, infants develop this relationship with the parent(s) or person who provides the most direct, responsive care to their needs. This type of attachment with one to two significant adults is the primary attachment relationship. Then children form supporting relationships with other caring adults. 

Children who have secure attachments with their parent(s), tend to be popular with peers and exhibit more positive social interaction with other children and be more emotionally stable and able to express and manage their feelings well. 

Children who are insecure, seem more at risk for hostile, anti-social or difficult relationships with other children. They also are more likely to be emotionally unstable and have difficulty in expressing and managing their feelings. 

We learn about relationships throughout our life, starting in infancy. And parents who have developed strong, secure attachments with their child, still need to promote healthy relationships during the preteen and teen years. During this stage of development, young people are learning skills they need to form positive relationships with others. This is an ideal time to promote healthy relationships and prevent patterns of dating violence that can last into adulthood.

For more information about healthy relationships, visit the K-State Research and Extension Families website at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/families

Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email rmcfarla@ksu.edu