SHERIDAN — Respect, independence, support and mutual understanding — these are things to celebrate in a good relationship.
Because Sheridan’s Advocacy and Resource Center staff so often talks about difficult subjects, this year the nonprofit will host its second annual celebration of healthy relationships, the Love Shouldn’t Hurt Fundraiser from 7-10 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Kalif Shrine.
“The idea was to have an event that really highlights a happy, healthy environment,” Rhonda Weber, assistant director for the Advocacy and Resource Center said. “In the nature of our work, it can be hard to do awareness events that don’t leave people feeling a little down, and we are often talking about things that can make people feel uncomfortable.”
The Advocacy and Resource Center decided to host a fun night out celebrating healthy relationships, and planned it near Valentine’s Day.
The event can be your Valentine’s date, a fun girls night out or an evening with your best friend, Weber said.
“We want to celebrate people and promote a healthy night out with you and your partner, you and your best friend — whatever your favorite healthy relationship is — to raise money for a good cause,” Weber said.
The Advocacy and Resource Center currently visits all of Sheridan’s eighth-grade classes, and started visiting ninth-grade classes, as well. Weber said that she’s seen a shift in the discussion: No longer are students hearing only about warning signs for an abusive relationship, but instead they are also focusing on developing the tools to create healthy relationships from the get-go.
“We’ve shifted to talking about how we build healthy relationships, talking about what you want in a best friend, and, when you are ready to start dating, what you want in a partner. We talk about warning signs in their own lives they can look out for, but we are also hearing very specifically that these kids are interested in being independent,” Weber said.
Movies, television and social media may portray togetherness as the quintessential goal, often with the accompanying #relationshipgoals tag, but Sheridan kids want freedom. They want to be individuals, Weber said.
“This is a time when they are looking at being more independent naturally, so they want relationships where they can find that balance. They want to have the freedom to be themselves, and to hang out with other friends too,” Weber said. “They want to go to sporting events or things another friend or partner may not like — and that is ok. They have the independence to do what they like.”
Students also want someone who respects what they like, how they dress and who they are, Weber said.
“What’s happening, which is super exciting, is that people are starting to know that they can command and demand respect,” she said. “They can live a judgement-free life, the kind that we hope becomes global.”
What remains troubling, though, is that if students — and adults — don’t have examples or discussions led by experts, where will they learn what a healthy relationship looks like?
With Sheridan students, Weber said she talks specifically about social media and its limitations.
“I can say that when I was in school, I didn’t have this stuff. What you saw in people is what you got. We didn’t have social media to project this image of what a person is, to find out the hard way what they are like in real life,” Weber said.
Most students understand, though, that to have healthy relationships, they need to put the technology down. And perhaps surprisingly, students are becoming less likely to post and share, even if they are observing on their phones daily.
“People in their late 20s, the 30s, those age groups are still really in it,” Weber said of social media. “But some of our teenagers, they are still on their phones all the time, but it doesn’t mean they are posting or engaging in it as much as (20-30-year-olds) do.”
Weber said she talks about the harassment that can occur over social media, and how much easier it is for people to create tactics and target their victims over social media. She also leads discussions about boundaries on social media, about how to set them and not cross them.
“For example, we talk about sending photos or asking for them. While technology has posed a problem, because there is a bigger platform for victimization, it has also created really good conversations,” Weber said.
At the end of the day, you are not your social media profile — and neither is your relationship.
“How people portray themselves might not be what you get in person,” Weber said. “So let’s go back to really defining a relationship. Is it talking one-on-one with a person? Is it communicating face-to-face with someone? Or is it texting? And most people agree that we need to put the technology down.”