Six Months Old or Sixteen Years Old: Reflecting on TDVAM as a New Parent 



I returned to work in January after being on parental leave and kept asking myself “what is my role? Who am I?” I was balancing responsibilities, roles, and identities in a way I had never known. As the Youth Education Program Manager at REACH, I work directly with young people and support adults who work with, interact with, or care for young people- folks in schools, other service providers, parents, guardians, and people who are in a parenting or nurturing role. 

Now, it’s February, Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). This month, thinking about how I parent my infant has helped me reflect on how adults can create trauma-informed, boundaried, inclusive, and compassionate spaces for youth of all ages—and especially teens. Some lessons I’ve learned (so far) since being a parent are: 

1.The body holds trauma and stress, and they show up in our interactions 

Parenting is hard. Working with and supporting young people is hard. I’ve had times with my little one where I am stressed. I tense up. I feel it in my shoulders, my jaw, my breath. And then I pause. I notice. I breathe. I remember that the way I hold myself impacts what they take in and how they experience the world.  

Teens are like that too. When we as adults show up to class, wake up in the morning, come to practice, or arrive at a meeting, those around us note our affect, posture, and mannerisms . We might try to hide a bad mood, but young people are astute and loving. As much as we want to center the folks we are supporting, it’s also okay to acknowledge that we (the adults) are having a tough time. Being honest about how we show up with young people shows them we are humans too and that it’s okay to discuss your feelings and state your needs.  

2. Boundaries start before day one 

Before I gave birth, my husband and I spoke with our families about technological boundaries. We asked ourselves what types of information we were willing to share with different people in our lives and thought about how it made us feel. When I am on my phone, I look at my child and think about how seeing me look at a device impacts his development and attachment. 

Teens deserve the same thoughtfulness around boundaries that we offer a baby. Instead of assuming we know what's best for the young people in our lives, we can ask them: what types of information, time, attention, or touch are you willing to share with people? How does it make you feel? How might these boundaries impact you and others?  

As adults, we can reflect on how we model boundaries and consent practices around technology, personal information, intimacy, and so much more. We can communicate when we are unable to offer choice to young people. Teens and young people often have their boundaries determined and dictated for them by adults, so providing structured, compassionate space to reflect on and establish their own boundaries helps them build healthy relationship skills for the future. 

3. Who they are is who they are 

Before my little one was born, many people tried to figure out who they would be. I constantly resist people’s urges to place restrictive gender norms on them. And although I have tried incredibly hard to not place narratives or expectations on them, I find myself saying things like “oh, they will be a soccer player, dancer, or runner” when I see them kicking nonstop on their playmat. 

So often we see someone and make assumptions about who they are. We create a story about who they might become. Yet young people remind us every day that they are exactly who they are. Centering, honoring, and respecting the young people in our lives requires us to trust them; to trust that each person is the expert in their own realities, however old (or young) they are. When a young person shares their name, gender, pronouns, sexual orientation, and other identities with us, we need to use those terms and honor, support, and believe them. They are who they are. Their future careers, education, relationships, identities, and trajectory are not for us to determine, but rather for us to support.

4. There are things you cannot control- and that’s okay. 

This is a big one, and it has been a big shift for me. Young people are so vulnerable and also so resilient. Whether it is dropping them at daycare for the first time, watching them drive a car, or seeing them go off to school on their own, we will not always be with them. There will be so many times in their lives when they will make choices for themselves and interact with the big, bold, and often scary universe on their own. As a parent, I’m even more aware of how systems of power and oppression impact us daily. I also know that prevention work is built on the belief that change, joy, and healthy relationships are possible if we work to impact our little (or big) corner of the universe. 

All we can do is what we’re able to and the rest is out of our control. But in this unpredictable world, we have to trust young people, whether they are six months old or sixteen years old. We must trust that they’ve built the skills and we’ve built the relationships to provide a network of support. That the boundary setting skills we’ve modeled and supported are part of their being. That knowing who they are, and that they are beloved, will help them confidently exist in the world. And that even when we can’t control what’s going on, they will be okay. 

Supporting young people requires constant learning. I’ve learned so much already and continue to grow every day. I hope you are too. Youth of all ages need us to show up for them. If REACH can help you support the young people in your life, please contact us. We may not have all the answers, but we will be honored to learn with you. 


Molly Pistrang-Gomes is Youth Education Program Manager at REACH.