By Susie Kroll
“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”
Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)
As a professional speaker and advocate for Teen Dating Violence, I spend a lot of time in junior high and high schools. Teen Dating Violence is a weighty subject especially for teens and parents. It can be made even more volatile when parents aren’t the model of a healthy relationship that their children need to see. When I go out to speak to teens and tweens I invariably meet kids who are stunned at one or more aspects of healthy relationships. They seem mystified that it is a partnership. Or that each person is free to have a life outside of their relationship. More shockingly, is the fact that most aren’t surprised and have even experienced one or more aspects of a potentially harmful dating violence relationship; they even seem to be okay or resigned to these behaviors. Some of these behaviors include being accountable at all times to their boyfriends or girlfriends or becoming sexually active. I hear kids say, frequently, “I didn’t have a choice.” This resignation to their situation also leads them to say, “I’m not happy, but what can I do,” and “Isn’t this how it is supposed to be?”
Today’s teens and tweens are constantly in pursuit of the next best thing that they think will make them happy, albeit I am not sure if they know what their happiness is. But then again, do most adults? Though I do know that at that age most seem to choose their happiness based on what their peers want or have mandated as the thing to have. Sadly, it also seems that the happiness teens are seeking is and can only be in the form of a material object.
As an advocate, I seek to have them learn about their own rights, choices, and individuality. As an adult, I now see clearly, what pressures teens and I were under and how differently I would do things if I knew then what I know now. Therein lays the eternal struggle; the inexperience of youth and the wisdom of age. I want every child to learn about healthy relationships. More importantly, I want each and every child to learn healthy independence and individuality. I believe that one cannot be a successful and happy partner unless they are first a successful and happy individual. A teen’s self worth is not defined by the material goods they have, the popularity they seek, or the romantic relationship they are a part of. It comes from learning about one’s self, experiences, beliefs, and values. It comes from what has made us sad, happy, angry, jealous, and joyous. Ultimately, happiness comes from having the ability to choose. A few of those choices could be choosing your job, religion, education, hobbies, hair color, friends, and activities. We need to teach them about the responsibility that comes with choice, the consequences and positive outcomes. It will transition nicely into making healthy choices in all avenues of their lives.
Anyone that is a parent or advocate for children can help foster healthy relationships by first fostering healthy individuals. We can remind our teens and tweens that happiness is something you have to actively seek. That it is more than the newest gadget, fashion, or phone. Happiness is also taking the time to value what you have already. We need to show teens and tweens that they have choices, opinions, and goals that have merit and value. We need to show them that while on the path to seeking their happiness they must also remember that some of the joy in attaining happiness is also in the journey.