By Sammie Gallo, Creator of Abundant Life: You Were Made for More
A few statistics before we launch into this blog:
- Research shows that 1 in 3 young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship before they are adults.
- During the pandemic, many young people have been using teen “dating” apps to forge and maintain their first romantic relationships – something that is unprecedented and we’ve never seen before.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, an annual campaign focused on advocacy and education to stop dating abuse before it starts. You may be reading this and think that it is far fetched to talk about this with teens; but in reality, the statistics above are true. Research shows that 1 in 3 young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship before they are adults. With many teen relationships developing online during this interminable pandemic, it is more challenging than ever for parents to guide teens through a first crush or breakup, or to even have any idea if their relationships are unhealthy or not. When you combine that with the fact that once you are in one abusive relationship, you’re more likely to fall into another one, it makes for the perfect storm. Education is where we need to start with this. We need to really make sure the students in our lives are able to distinguish between the healthy and unhealthy relationships they see around them. If you are looking for more specifics on abuse and the different types of abuse, here is a blog we’ve featured before that can give you more backgound.
If you’re new to Abundant Life: You Were Made for More, here is what you need to know – we are passionate about relationships because God made them. We’re passionate about youth leaders and parents partnering in having conversations with students about Gospel-centered sexuality. We would never advise you that silence is the best… jumping into these conversations with your kids before the world does first is essential to their souls and how they interpret what they see and hear. It’s so, so imporant – and we are here to equip you and partner with you.
The pandemic has taken away a lot from teens, including real-life opportunities to meet and form peer relationships at school, social functions, sports practice, and other in-person events that have been fairly inconsistent these past two years. One thing hasn’t changed though: teenagers, and humans in general, still have the same need and desire to make and form relationships, especially romantic ones. In case you’ve forgotten, it is what we were made for. We were made for relationships.
Digital tools, and even so-called “dating” or “hook-up” apps, make it easy for young people to start and maintain relationships and dating apps in general, such as adult favorites like Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, have all reported an increase in use over the past 18 months. Believe it or not, there are apps designed specifically for those 13-18 years of age who are looking for relationships. Yep, you read that right. A few that come to mind are the MyLOL, Yubo, and Skout-Meet New People platforms. All of which allow you to chat with people you’re age, put in a faulty birthdate in order to gain access (for most 13+ is the age qualification, but it’s easy to fake it), and post provacative photos and have sexually explicit conversations.
Although there are plenty more apps specifically designed to meet new people, like those described above, any online space where kids “hang out”—from Snapchat to Discord, group texts to Fortnite—can essentially be considered a “dating” platform. This doesn’t mean parents need to know the intimate workings of every app and service out there – that frankly is just impossible. The realitstic and much more important option that parents need to be considering is monitoring where their teens are hanging out, who they are meeting, and be curious about the involvement they have in online apps. Having non-judgemental conversations about this is so important to keeping lines of communication up with your teen and helping them recognize that you are FOR them, not against them. Again… the earlier and younger your children are when you open up conversations with them regarding relationships, the more likely they are to talk with you as they get older.
And if your a student reading this: please remember that if your parents are asking you these questions and are genuinely trying to engage with you, it is part of their God-given role in your life. In the majority of cases, your parents love you and care for you, which is why they take that role of protecting you so seriously. They want you to have safe and healthy relationships. They want to help you set boundaries and figure out how to date intentionally, date the right people, and be respected in the process.
If you are a parent, encourage your kids that it is healthy to turn their devices off now and then; they don’t have to be available 24/7. Something we love to do in our house it to leave our phones outside of the bedroom, in a common area. Encouraging teens to do this too can really be a safe and effective boundary, especially if they see you modeling it as well. Emphasize the importance of staying firm to your values – saying “no” should not warrant someone who truly cares about you to ghost you. Most importantly, you should feel respected in all your relationships, online or off. No ifs, ands, or buts. Something I’ve learned as I’ve walked through tough relationships – both my own and with other people – it’s that we need to be willing to accept God’s love for us, as our Heavnly Father, before we can ever accept love from others. It’s through His love for us that we’re able to love those around us well and with eternal purpose.
As we mark both Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and Valentine’s Day, make some time to have these life-changing conversations with your teenagers. God cares about our relationships deeply and may be all remember how He has called us to shepard one another in them, for our God + for His glory.
Sammie graduated from Robert Morris University in 2017 with a background in biology and psychology and started working with Anglicans for Life (AFL) shortly after. In addition to her work with AFL, she spends time pouring into high school students in her community and is a full-time nursing student, hoping to work in the labor and delivery unit upon her graduation in December 2022.
Sammie married her best friend, Juan Gallo, in May 2019. During her free time, she cares for their sweet baby girl, Ofelia, who joined their family in August 2020.
Sammie spends her day-to-day making sure that every person hears and believes the words: “you were made for more.” You can follow Sammie on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! She’d love to get to know you!