By Erin Hesselink
Mike Domitrz was in college when he received the call that his sister had been raped. Though he couldn’t believe it initially, he immediately transferred colleges to be closer to home, and as a result, witnessed his family going through the pain of a courtroom trial.
The experience forced Domitrz to re-evaluate every assumption he had about dating. “I saw how ‘going for it’ was the norm,” he says, “and how rarely people give their partners a clear choice by asking first before engaging in sexual intimacy.” A year later, a speaker came to his college and spoke about sexual assault. It was then that Domitrz realized he could be up there. That his voice could make a difference. And that’s where it all began.
Domitrz, now a husband and father of four boys based in Wisconsin, created the “Can I Kiss You?” program and the Date Safe Project, both aimed at teaching teens and parents about healthy relationships. The former is an interactive presentation about dating and sexual intimacy, consent, respect, sexual assault and more in which audience members learn specific skills and gain knowledge that they can use immediately. It is available to students in Grades 6-12, college students and the military.
To be able to reach more people in a more effective way, Domitrz and his team also developed the Date Safe Project, which provides lifelong dating skills for teens and young adults in a variety of ways, including books, DVDs, posters, live presentations, live multi-day training and licensing programs for anyone interested in spreading the message in their own community. Date Safe focuses on consent and asking first, respecting boundaries, sexual decision-making, bystander intervention and supporting sexual assault survivors.
“For a teenager, being able to recognize a healthy relationship is the first step,” says Domitrz. “A healthy relationship is when both people have equal choices and a mutual ongoing respect for each other.”
Not sure whether your teen’s potential partner is a no-go? Ask yourself: Are there any signs of possession or control? Does their partner have to know where they are all the time? Is there constant texting that demands your teen tell their partner where they are and what they’re doing? Are they trying to decide where your child goes and who he/she hangs out with? Does your child seem dependent?
“What a teen should think is, they bring out the best in me,” says Domitrz. “I don’t need them to be who I am; I just enjoy being around them.”
Tips for teaching your teen about healthy relationships
Model a healthy relationship at home
If you want to help your teen identify what a healthy relationship entails, promote gender equality in the home, advises Domitrz. Make sure you aren’t stuck on gender roles. Avoid stereotypes. Parents who say, “Watch out for boys, they’re trouble” are only teaching their child that a boy will be trouble, and the child learns to accept bad boys. Parents who say “girls are manipulative, stay away from them” are sending the message that all women are manipulative, and their child will accept that and end up with manipulative women.
Focus on the positive
According to Domitrz, a great thing a parent can say is, “‘Ninety per cent of people out there are wonderful, so be with one of the 90 per cent that are awesome – why would you want to be with one of the 10 per cent who are not?'”
Teach them to speak up
“Teach them that if they’re in a relationship, they should always feel safe to say whatever’s on their mind in a respectful manner.” If they can’t, they might not be comfortable with that person or aren’t ready to be dating yet. And when it comes to sexual intimacy, teach your child how to say what they want and what they don’t.
Choose real role models
The media often portrays partners who are possessive and jealous. “Often the characters on TV are drinking before they engage in sexual intimacy, which is an awful role model. You shouldn’t need an ounce of alcohol,” Domitrz says. Instead of looking to the media for advice, he suggests teens look up to adult couples who have been happily married for a long time, and who show respect for each other.
For more information, visit DateSafeProject.org.