February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month which is a great time to reflect on what influences young people’s perceptions of healthy relationships. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year (loveisrespect.org). This high prevalence of unhealthy and abusive relationships tells us that many young people aren’t being taught what love really is. Family, friends and school all play into young people’s perspectives, but there is another overarching factor that is widely ignored, yet extremely important to examine. That is what popular culture is teaching about healthy relationships. Popular culture is digested through various forms of media and there is nothing wrong with enjoying it. However, it should be examined critically and not allowed to form our subconscious or the subconscious of our youth.
Popular songs such as “Blurred Lines”, “Animals”, and “Jealous” all frame being possessive, coercive, and exhibiting stalker like behavior as normal ways to pursue a relationship. In turn, these attitudes are looked at as desirable and “showing you care” rather than the warning signs of abuse. The romanticizing of abuse is common not only in songs, but in film. No better example of this is the “Fifty Shades of Gray” series, which released its second film the week before Valentine’s Day. This movie is marketed as a romance, but it tells the story of abuse.
All of these examples in popular culture of unhealthy relationships weave a narrative that abusive relationships are normal, even something to be aimed for. And no one is more impacted by this than young people. It is our responsibility to call out and challenge positive portrayals of unhealthy relationships in media in front of young people. Love is about respect, and this point needs to be made if we want to improve our society.
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