Efforts are being ramped up to help Garden State High School students understand what is and is not healthy behavior in a dating relationship.

The state Department of Children and Families is partnering with an assortment of behavioral and mental health groups to offer counseling services to students.

AlantiCare’s school-based program director Cathleen Morris, a social worker who runs the Teen Center at Buena Regional High in South Jersey, said an assortment of services are offered to assist young people achieve their educational and life goals. This includes understanding what it means to be in a healthy relationship.

She said this is an important topic because studies have shown 1 in 3 adolescents in the are victims of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

“Students will say they want a healthy relationship but they may not know what a healthy relationship is or what their dating rights are," she said.

“If your partner wants you to run everything by them before you do it, that’s dating abuse," she said as an example.

“You have an equal partnership, not one partner dictates what you’re allowed to do or not do. They shouldn’t manipulate you or threaten you or use guilt to get you to do what they want.”

Students are also told “you should have the right to say no to anything, even if you’ve said yes to it in the past. Your partner shouldn’t put you down, your partner shouldn’t get frustrated or angry with you if things don’t go their way.”

Another point that is highlighted point is that students should talk to an adult if they feel afraid or threatened by their partner. Excuses should never be made for their partner if there are any unexplained bruises or injuries.

“They don’t have the right to put their hands on you. Love should never hurt. We tell the students we want them to support one another in the relationship and make sure that you still have 'you time' in the relationship."

She said sometimes teens don’t really understand what abuse is in a relationship.

“They’re still developing, adolescence is a time of finding your identity," she said. “It’s also important for parents to talk about this with their children and make sure they know they have rights in a relationship.”

She explained that students will discuss these issues in one-on-one sessions and in small groups separated by gender.

Morris said a recent Ingredients to a Healthy Relationship program at Buena Regional High School attracted more than 200 students.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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