Teen Relationships - Doing No Harm | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
January 2011

Teen Relationships - Doing No Harm

By Chris Wilterdink
I recently attended The National Religious Institutions Roundtable hosted by the FaithTrust Institute. The purpose: to bring leadership from various religious institutions to share expertise and resources for addressing domestic violence issues. The United Methodist, American Baptist, Presbyterian USA, American Methodist Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and Roman Catholic Churches represented a wide breadth of Christian communities within the United States. The Jewish faith was represented by the Jewish National Fund Women's Alliance, while several different Muslim communities were represented by the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Peaceful Families Project. Additional community perspectives were offered by the FaithTrust Institute. I felt so glad to be a part of a roundtable where the similarity of our care for young people could override any differences between our faith or community groups. Our conversation covered three days, covering topics like the response of a community to domestic abuse, the ways that domestic abuse causes harm within relationship, and the demands placed upon a community when domestic abuse appears. Often, our conversations held to traditionally held models of domestic abuse, and how youth are often affected by their parent's relationship. Often it seems, our faith communities respond to domestic violence reactively and often limit our response to youth and young people as victims. We all agreed that the more proactively a faith community can openly talk about abuse - the greater difference we can make in the lives of young people. However, on the third day - a welcome new observation arose - youth can also become perpetrators of domestic violence. How many youth workers have had to provide counsel to youth in an abusive relationship? How do youth discern the difference between jealousy and love? How can youth learn to be in healthy relationships and strive to do no harm when revenge and mind games have become part of young people's dating expectations? Emotional abuse, psychological attacks, and physical harm all appear on the rise within teen relationships - begging the question: How do we as youth workers respond to abuse in teen relationships? While the UMC does have an official stance on domestic violence, and how our church supports involved families, teen dating violence is often not addressed. Since the teen relationships are not defined in the same terms as adult relationships, perhaps we see an abuse in a teen relationship as temporary - or as a learning experience. However, I believe not taking teen dating violence seriously turns a blind eye to a common experience for young people. Young people need to learn what healthy relationships can be, and there are too may bad examples out there. We must determine a stance we can take together on how to educate, empower, and support our young people to create healthy relationships with each other. The healthiest relationships are not free from arguments, not free from hurt feelings - but they are free from abusive intent. Part of our role as youth workers is to help youth define and participate in healthy relationships - with themselves, with each other, with church leaders, and with God. If your local church has any resources or processes used to address teen dating violence or abuse, I would love to hear from you. Together, let's discover ways to help youth do no harm as they enter into deeper relationships.
Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.