Why the real world is the best classroom

GETTING out of the classroom and into the real world is the best way to teach our teenagers how to have non-violent intimate relationships.

That's the view of child abuse and adolescent relationship expert Christine Wekerle who talked about dating violence at this week's Youth Violence: Cutting to the Core conference in Brisbane.

Dr Wekerle said navigating romantic relationships was tough for many teenagers.

"Youth will often see controlling behaviours, such as sexting and jealousy, as love," the associate professor in paediatrics at Canada's McMaster University said.

"They can think that's the person showing that they are really into them and they (the other person) really cares a lot.

"If an adolescent hasn't had time to think about what they want in a romantic partner and they haven't had time and space to think about what a healthy relationship is, then they may find themselves in situations where they have no response (to controlling behaviour and violence) and they are stuck.

"When you've been exposed to adults being violent and you've been victimised yourself through any type of child abuse you've learned that violence happens between people who love each other."


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Dr Wekerle said young people could learn a lot from talking to victims and perpetrators of domestic violence to experience hands on the impacts of unhealthy relationships.

She also suggested school-based relationship programs should be youth-led and they should encourage adolescents to visit support services like Kids Helpline.

"You need to make it a youth initiative with information based on experiences - for example they can go visit the national (telephone) help line," Dr Wekerle said.

"For example having some understanding of who's working at the helpline makes the information they are receiving more relevant and credible.

"Someone should come from the women's shelter and someone should come from the men's behaviour change programs … maybe a former (domestic violence) victim and a perpetrator.

"This learning is just much more powerful than (class-based activities)." 

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