Safe + Sound Blog

SPEAK Teen Leadership Conference

Answers to Anonymous Questions

As part of Safe+Sound Somerset’s presentation on Leading with Character, many of you asked anonymous questions through PollEverywhere. Safe+Sound Somerset staff answered several of the questions live, and here are answers to the others. Thank you for asking these excellent questions – we received 65 of them in 15 minutes!

If you’d like even more answers, check out our new podcast, Ask Ava. You can also text or call our 24-hour hotline at 866.685.1122.

Q: What are some examples of a healthy relationship? /What does a healthy friendship look like?

A: Healthy, respectful relationships and friendships are equal. Both people feel safe, supported, and trusted. Both people’s needs are respected, and neither should be guilted into anything they don’t feel comfortable with. Take a look at the attached tools, including the Teen Equality Wheel and the Rights and Responsibilities. These will give you a good guide for healthy relationships before we start moving on to questions below about unhealthy relationships.


Q: What should you do if you’re scared that if you leave a toxic friendship your friend will hurt themselves? / How to get over a manipulative ex who won’t let you go? / How do you get out of an abusive relationship? / How to deal with a toxic ex who won’t leave you alone?

A: You have every right to end a toxic or abusive relationship or friendship. Many times, the abuse, threats, and/or manipulation will escalate as you end things. This can include threats by the ex to hurt themselves. You do not have to stay in a relationship you don’t want to be in. You are also not responsible for the other person’s actions.

If someone makes a threat to harm themselves, please report it to an adult at school, or even call 911 if there is an immediate danger. Exs have no right to trap you in a relationship out of guilt – that takes away your ability to consent to just about anything in that relationship and takes away your own power.

Abuse can also continue even after the relationship has ended. This is wrong – you have a right to safety and respect after a break up. Document the abuse, take screenshots, and report it as you feel comfortable. These might be helpful if file for a restraining order.

To talking things out, find out about a restraining order, and safety plan, text or call our hotline at 866.685.1122.


Q: How to tell your ex you no longer want to be friends without making yourself look bad? / If you don’t want to be friends after a relationship ends does it necessarily mean that you never loved them?

A: Go ahead and set your own boundaries! It’s ok to not want to continue having a friendship with someone, even an ex. That doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, or that the relationship wasn’t good at the time. Our boundaries change over time and that’s ok, no matter what our other friends might say.


Q: What if someone comes back after leaving you so they can deal with their issues, only to be much different and more aggressive? / How do you trust someone again after they hurt you in many ways?/ Can you stop someone from being toxic? Can you help them stop what they’re doing? / If someone was a toxic person in a relationship and now says that they have changed and learned from their mistakes, can you believe them?

A: Although change is always possible, it is VERY difficult. People do tend to follow the same patterns as in the past, unless they receive some help and really work through the issues that led them to be abusive in the first place. Also, lots of ups and downs and broken promises of change can in fact be a sign of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Even after apologies, abuse tends to escalate and get worse instead of getting better. You don’t owe anyone another chance, or your trust. Become familiar with the warning signs of abuse. Call out abusive behaviors when you see them, and encourage the actor to get help. Either of you can text or call us at 866.685.1122 for information or referrals, or visit Help For Teens


Q: Why is it so hurtful when your boyfriend that you actually loved breaks up with you?

A: Relationships are hard, and this includes when they end. Everyone has a right to end a relationship, even if the other person isn’t ready to do that or is still in love. You can’t fault someone for their feelings. Take some time to relax, find someone to talk to, and take care of yourself as you mourn the loss of this important relationship.


Q: How do you speak to an abusive partner or toxic friend about their behavior in a healthy manner? / How to let your significant other know they are manipulative? / How to tell a friend that they are toxic to you? / What to do if your friends are excluding you or others? / What should you do if your boyfriend/girlfriend is obsessive?

A: Use I statements, and let them know how you feel and would like to be treated. Let them know you deserve respect – that you have a right to be treated respectfully and they have a responsibility to not be abusive. If they dismiss, threaten, or blame you, this is a sign that the friendship or relationship is not healthy. Remember that you have every right to set your own boundaries, and to respectfully end a friendship or relationship if those boundaries aren’t followed.


Q: How do you help a friend stand up to a person who sexually harassed her?

A: First of all, listen to your friend. They may not feel safe confronting the person who harassed them. Also, sexual harassment often goes against school policy or even the law. If you are concerned about their safety, recommend that they document the harassment as best they can and report it. You can even offer to help your friend report. Let your friend know that their feelings are valid and it’s possible that they will be hurting for a while. Encourage them to seek professional support and/or support in friends or a trusted adult even if the harassment has stopped.


Q: How do you support a friend with a toxic past? / What should you do if you suspect someone is in a toxic relationship?

A: If your friend was the target of abuse, then understand that the healing process can be long with lots of ups and downs. If they are currently in a toxic relationship, let them know your concerns without putting down their partner. Give them information, but understand that they may not be ready to end a relationship. Try to find ways to make them feel safe, and just let them know that you believe them and support them. Encourage them to seek out support and safety – our agency is here for them no matter where they are in their journey to safety and healing. Take care of yourself as well. Either of you can text or call our hotline at 866.685.1122 to talk things out.


Q: How do you deal with bullying for all this – sexuality, relationships, etc.? / What do you do if your friend is the toxic one in a relationship? / Why do some people make fun of other people’s relationships?

A: Bullying and abuse are two sides of the same coin – they both involve trying to gain power and control over someone else. People do this for all kinds of reasons: they themselves were targets of abuse, they think its ok, they see examples of unhealthy relationships in popular culture, or they are dealing with their own histories of trauma and insecurities. However, reasons are not excuses. If you see bullying or toxic behaviors, call it out! People are less likely to bully others if they don’t think their friends would approve. If you are able, document what is happening and report it. Model healthy, respectful behaviors in your own friendships and relationships. Also don’t accept excuses – we are responsible for our actions, including the harmful ones.


Q: How do you handle a situation where you have a leader who acts too controlling at times? How do you avoid being that type of person? / How to act if people of power are toxic?/ How do you be a leader without exerting your power in a bad way?

A: As we discussed at the conference, even people with power should treat others with respect and equality. Although there may be a limit in terms of the say you have when dealing with someone with whom there is an unequal power balance, you still have a right to safety and boundaries. If you feel a leader is not respecting those, find a way to bring up your concerns with them. If they do not take your concerns seriously, find out who oversees this person and bring your concerns to them. For people to take your concerns seriously, act respectfully and calmly, and focus on the behaviors and actions rather than the person in question. Bring documentation if you can, as well as reasonable suggestions to remedy the situation.

As a leader, you may have to delegate or assign tasks, take a lead, and make decisions that people might disagree with. Give everyone a voice in the process as much as possible – make sure that they are heard even if they don’t get the final say. Avoid yelling, demeaning, making fun of other people.Try lifting people up, and empowering them to make decisions and have a say in your working relationship.


Q: How do you deal with emotionally abusive or toxic family members? / How can someone deal with an unstable environment at home?

A: We urge someone dealing with abusive family members to find an adult to talk to. They may be able to help identify resources, and suggest coping mechanisms. Adults in New Jersey are required to report to authorities if they suspect abuse or neglect, or if they are concerned for someone’s safety. Most families don’t WANT to be abusive, and many of these agencies can provide the family with resources and assistance as they work towards a healthier and safer dynamic. If you are worried about a friend, please talk with an adult immediately. It’s better to make sure your friend is safe, even if they are angry with you.

There are also lots of family dynamics that don’t amount to abuse. Again, speaking with a trusted adult will help you figure out if something should be reported to authorities, as well as provide a listening ear when you’re upset.


Q: How do you know if you’re being toxic to a person? / If you learn that you’re toxic unintentionally, how do you stop? Like for example wanting to spend a lot of time with your partner why is that so bad?

A: The very fact that you’re asking this question is a great start. Take a look at the attached Rights and Responsibilities – are you giving your partner or friend space to be their own person? Do you treat them as an equal? Ask them how they are feeling in the relationship. Really listen and avoid getting defensive if they bring up some concerns respectfully.

For example – wanting to spend a lot of time with your partner isn’t bad. What’s wrong is when you take that desire, and use it to change the other person’s behaviors, or make them feel bad having different needs (for example saying that they are a bad boyfriend/girlfriend if they don’t spend enough time with you or if they spend time with their friends). Talk with your partner – if they are ok with the amount of time you are spending together and don’t feel pressured to stop hanging out with their friends, then you should be ok!

Text or call our hotline at 866.685.1122 or visit Help For Teens for more information.


Q: What if I trust my partner, but still get jealous of other girls around him?

A: Jealousy is a common, natural feeling. What’s not common, however, is using this jealousy to control your partner’s actions (telling him he can’t talk to other people, constantly accusing him of cheating, etc.). Acknowledge the jealousy, and, because you trust your partner, try to figure out where it’s coming from.


Q: Should we tell our parents if we’re dating someone if it’ll be awkward? / How do I get my parents to be ok with my relationship?

A: Open communication and honesty is a healthy part of any relationship, including with our parents. If you want to share things about your relationship with them, start things by talking about more comfortable topics. If you want your parents to be ok with your relationship, show them that you take a relationship seriously and are aware of what makes a relationship healthy versus unhealthy. Your parents may never see things the way you want to, because they have their own histories and their own values; I’m sure that they care about you and only want what they think is best for you. Again, try connecting with them on more comfortable topics first to open up the lines of communication.


Q: What happens if you can’t trust a counselor?

A: It’s important to understand that not everything can be kept completely confidential. If a counselor (or really any adult) is concerned that you or someone else is in danger, they are required by law to report it to the appropriate agencies. However, there are lots of different places to turn to. School counselors, teachers, coaches, parents or other adult family members, and anonymous hotlines such as ours (866.685.1122) are a good starting place.


Q: How do you heal from a bad relationship?

A: Healing is an individual journey that can take different paths for everyone. Surround yourself with people who treat you in a kind way. Find ways to relax and feel good about yourself. Take some time to identify what boundaries you would like to set for yourself in future relationships. Feel free to contact Safe+Sound Somerset for services: in addition to our call or text hotline (866.685.1122), we offer individual and group counseling and legal advocacy at no charge.


Q: Who do we go to if someone is getting bullied or abused?

A: Remember that reaching out, reporting, or getting help are better than letting abuse of any kind continue, as it often gets worse. If you feel safe talking to your parents or a trusted adult in your life, that’s a good place to start. Speaking to a school counselor or SAC (Student Assistance Counselor) would also be beneficial, especially if things are happening on school grounds. Every school also has a Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying representative that is familiar with laws, policies, and options/services available to you. You are also capable of going to the police if you would like to take legal actions. Do your best to document the actions (screenshots, taking notes, etc.).

You can also call or text Safe+Sound Somerset (866.685.1122) for information, supportive listening, counseling services, or legal advocacy.


Q: How can you walk away from violence?

A: Find other outlets for your anger – take some deep breaths, do some stretching, or take a walk. Also, recognize that violence will generally not solve a problem; it usually only escalates a conflict and makes it worse for everyone (plus you can get in major trouble at school or with police!). Regain your personal power by finding healthy, safe, and legal ways to deal with the situation. Bring in a trusted adult; wait until everyone is calmer to have a thoughtful discussion. You can also anonymously report crimes in Somerset County with the STOPit messenger app (access code SOMERSETNJ).


Q: How do you tell your partner about past abusive relationships?

A: It’s up to you if you feel comfortable to share this information. Start the conversation by letting them know why you’re telling them – assuring them that you don’t want them to get revenge, but are looking for support and understanding. Your partner may get upset or angry at your ex, so be clear about what would make you feel most supported.


Q: Why are some people over sensitive? / Why are jokes offensive or hurtful? / Why do words speak louder than actions?

A: Both actions and words can have a major impact on people! Each person knows best what hurts them and how they feel safe – and those things can be different for everybody. If someone says that something is hurtful or offensive, believe them, even if you think it’s not a big deal. The IMPACT of words/actions are more important that the INTENT of the actor. Even if someone is “just joking,” if someone is left feeling unsafe, disrespected, or hurt, that’s the most important part of the interaction. If someone continues these behaviors after being asked to stop, or after becoming aware that these actions are causing someone harm, they are bullying and harassing.


Q: If we can’t talk to our parents, how do we report cyber bullying?

A: A lot of websites have ways to report abusive comments or posts – look for those rules on the social media apps and websites you use. We also recommend documenting with screenshots. If there are threats against someone, take those screenshots to the police. If there are peers and classmates involved in the cyberbullying, take the screenshots to the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying representative in your school – they will be able to inform you of policies, your rights, and available resources. Finally, you can anonymously report crimes to the local prosecutor’s office using the STOPit messenger app (access code SOMERSETNJ).


Q: How many students/ people have admitted to an abusive relationship during this presentation?

A: From nationwide statistics: 1 in 3 teens will experience dating abuse before high school graduation. Ten percent (10%) of 8th graders say that they’ve already been hit by a dating partner. Although we can’t provide an exact number of disclosures, nothing we have seen would suggest that these numbers aren’t accurate. And really, 1 case of dating abuse is too many!


Q: How do you deal with your guilt from a previous relationship?

A: Be kind with yourself and realize that, while you are responsible for your actions, you are not solely built upon these actions that are stirring up guilt. Guilt is something human that we all deal with in one way or another. Your past relationships and feelings that result from them will undoubtedly impact the person you become.

Taking a look at the Equality Wheel below, it is important for partners to own up to their past wronging or abuse. Depending on the situation, if it is appropriate and safe to do so, an apology to your partner could help but realize that they may not be accepting of this. If you no longer have contact with this person, or they don’t want to hear your apology, remember this situation and take it as a lesson as you move forward into other relationships.


Q: How do I know if I’m gay?

A: Exploring issues surrounding sexuality and gender identity can be confusing, overwhelming, isolating, exciting, or all of the above and more. While this journey is different for each person, please know that you are not on your own. Also understand that, no matter what your relationships may look like in terms of gender, you still deserve safety and respect in that relationship. There are lots of resources for LGBTQ+ individuals. Here is a link of several of those, including a section for LGBTQ youth GLAAD Resource List


Q: What does a healthy polyamorous relationship look like?

A: Relationships look all sorts of ways – there is no right or wrong way as long as it is consensual. Polyamorous relationships are based on the consent of all partners involved. They have all of the aspects of a healthy paired relationship, just between multiple people. Each person is an equal member of the group, and has a right to respect, communication, and safety. Please take a look at our Teen Equality Wheel and the Rights and Responsibilities handouts for aspects of healthy relationships.


Q: What is love?

A: Love can mean a lot of different things everyone. To start, here’s a link to the dictionary’s definition of love: Merriam-Webster


Q: What is the meaning of life?

A: It’s an individual journey for everyone. Here are some people’s take on this question

“42” – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Life has not meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer” – Joseph Campbell

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, and individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person” – Anais Nin


  • I have the right not to be abused or bullied—physically, emotionally, or sexually
  • I have the right to end a friendship or “fall out of love” with someone
  • I have the right to express my own opinions
  • I have the right to have my needs be as important as my friend’s or partner’s needs
  • I have the right to grow as an individual and not be criticized for it
  • I have the right to accept responsibility for my own behavior, not someone else’s behavior
  • I have the right to change my mind
  • I have the right to have my own friends
  • I have the right to say “NO”
  • I have the right to be respected and loved, and to live a peaceful life


  • It is my responsibility to not abuse or bully my friends or dating partners
  • I cannot blame anyone else but myself if I am abusive
  • Alcohol or drugs cannot be used as an excuse for abuse
  • It is my responsibility to treat other people the way I want to be treated
  • I am responsible for my own actions, not my friends’ or dating partner’s
  • It is my responsibility to get counseling if I realize I am being abusive, and to find support if I am being abused or bullied
  • It is my responsibility to understand that a friendship or relationship is only one part of my life
  • I am responsible for my own life

Love is...

Trust / NOT Jealousy

Communication / NOT Manipulation

Compromise / NOT Intimidation

Friendship / NOT Obsession

Respect / NOT Threats