When young people across the country return to in-person schooling this fall, they will be going back to more than the classroom. The re-introduction of in-person peer relationships is causing concern for some parents, who are worried about healthy relationship skills their kids may be lacking.
The results from a national poll conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation point to concerns about the development of healthy relationship skills for young people who may have missed out on important experiential learning opportunities during the pandemic. The survey highlighted that “Only 38 per cent of girls’ parents and 45 per cent of boys’ parents are confident that their children will have opportunities to catch up on building healthy conflict resolution skills post-pandemic.”
Peer relationships and youth dating violence
It may seem like it would be easy for kids to pick up these skills as they are re-introduced to social settings, but youth need clear and consistent education in order to internalize messaging about healthy relationships. At a young age, when youth are starting to form interpersonal relationships of their own, it is critical that they learn how to engage with others in a healthy and respectful manner. Youth who are not introduced to these skills at a young age can be at risk of displaying unhealthy behaviour in their relationships as they get older. According to Addressing Youth Dating and Violence, youth who lack these skills can be in danger of perpetrating “youth dating violence”, defined as “aggressive, violent, threatening, and/or manipulative behaviour from a partner in a romantic or sexual relationship.”
A 2017/18 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study was the first national study in Canada to look at youth dating violence. According to the results of the study, 1 in 3 youth who had dated reported experiencing dating violence, and 1 in 7 reported perpetrating violence in a relationship. Youth who experienced higher levels of oppression were more likely to report both as victims and as perpetrators of dating violence.
Developing healthy relationships
As youth return to schools and to their peer groups, it is important that they are given opportunities to learn about issues related to dating, consent, and building healthy relationships. Young people cannot be expected to develop healthy relationships unless they are given the tools to do so, and an environment that allows them to practice these critical skills.