Promoting healthy relationships for youth in Massachusetts

Resources for parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone interested in promoting healthy friendships or relationships among youth.

Table of Contents

What we can do

Massachusetts is increasing prevention efforts to reduce sexual and domestic violence in our communities. Led by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence – in partnership with the Executive Office of Health Human Services and the Massachusetts State Legislature - launched a public awareness and prevention campaign: RESPECTfully. The campaign’s key message is that everyone deserves respect, honesty, and open communication. Read our campaign overview and visit to learn more.

Youth-serving individuals and organizations can encourage parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs of unhealthy behaviors, educate youth on what respect looks like, and have clear conversations about consent. Parents and caregivers can help lower the risk for teens experiencing unhealthy or abusive relationships by having open, honest, non-judgmental and continuous conversations with youth about respect in friendships and romantic relationships.

Talking with teens about healthy relationships

Teens are forming friendships and dating relationships that will affect their future relationships. You can help teens understand what a healthy relationship feels and looks like.

  1. Encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection. Talk openly with teens about healthy relationships. Ask about their values and expectations for healthy relationships. Don’t dismiss their ideas, encourage discussion—this will help your teen come to their own understanding.
  2. Be sensitive and firm. Helping teens navigate their way through relationships is not easy. To be effective, you can find the balance between being sensitive and firm. Try to understand the changes faced by your child. Talk openly and respect their opinions. Know that some decisions you make will be unpopular with your teen.
  3. Understand teen development. Adolescence is about experimentation. From mood swings to risk taking, “normal teenage behavior” can appear anything-but-normal. New research, however, reveals that brain development during these formative years play a significant role in teens' personality and actions. Knowing what’s “normal” is critical to helping you better understand and guide young people.
  4. Understand the pressure and the risk teens face. Teens face new and increasing pressures about sex, substance use, and dating. Time and time again, teens express their desire to have parents/role models take the time to listen to them and help them think through the situations they face – be that person.
  5. Take a clear stand. Make sure teens know how you feel about disrespect, use of abusive or inappropriate language, controlling behavior, or any forms of violence.
  6. Make the most of “teachable moments.” Use TV episodes, movies, music lyrics, news, community events or the experiences of friends to discuss healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  7. Discuss how to be an ‘upstander.’ Teach teens how to stand-up for friends when they observe unhealthy treatment of their peers.
  8. Accentuate the positive. Conversations about relationships do not need to focus solely on risky behavior or negative consequences. Conversations should also address factors that promote healthy relationships.
  9. Be an active participant in your teen’s life. Explore ways to know more about your teen’s friends and interests. Find activities you can do together.
  10. Be prepared to make mistakes. Accept that you will make mistakes, but continue to help teens make responsible choices while trying to maintain that delicate balance of being sensitive, but firm.

(Adapted from


Campaign resources
Sexual and domestic violence prevention resources
  • Resources for Parents and Teachers, Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness
  • Dating Violence Prevention,
  • Teen Dating Violence, CDC
  • Dating Matters Initiative, CDC
  • The Escalation Workshop, One Love
    The Escalation Workshop is a film-based discussion that opens people’s eyes to the warning signs of relationship abuse. The workshop consists of a film, Escalation, followed by a guided discussion led by a trained facilitator. You can bring Escalation to your school or community.
  • Dating Matters Training: Understanding Teen Dating Violence Prevention, VetoViolence
    The Dating Matters Training helps educators, school personnel, youth leaders, and others working to improve the health of teens. Based on insights from teachers, this online, accredited course uses expert interviews, creative visuals, interactivity, and compelling storytelling to communicate the relevance of teen dating violence prevention to anyone working with youth. This training is designed for anyone interested in learning more about how to stop teen dating violence—before it happens. This training takes approximately 60 minutes to complete.

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