Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month

  • Published
  • By Cynthia M. Wyatt
  • Family Advocacy Program

Parenting teenagers can be challenging on a good day! If we had to do that Freaky Friday/total body switch with them like Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan did in their movie, we would struggle with how to fit into their world. We would be challenged by their exposure to toxic social media, drug use decisions, juggling activities with academic success, fitting in with peer groups while developing their individuality — pressures of all kinds.

Sadly, there is another risk that parents and youth must face — dating violence. It is more common than we think among teens and young adults. According to dating violence research reported at Love is Respect, the occurrence of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within a relationship occurs to 1 in 3 U.S. teens before they are adults. And 43% of U.S. college women report experiencing abusive dating behaviors. Youth.Gov notes that, nationwide, youth aged 12-19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault. 10% of them reported being the victim of physical violence in the previous year by an intimate partner. The impact on girls, especially, is that they are more likely to suffer long-term behavioral and health consequences including suicide attempts, eating disorders, and drug use. It is something to think about as we send kids off to high school and college. It also hits the very age groups that enter the military each year.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Love Like That is the theme being promoted by the national youth advocacy group, Love is Respect. This is their effort to focus on what love should look like. And, fortunately, this is where parents can have significant influence. 

It is never too early or late for parents to have conversations with children and teens about what constitutes a healthy relationship. Not lecturing…but opening the topic in a non-threatening way and accepting all answers as you brainstorm what it can look like. It is okay to share what you think would be bottom-line boundaries to set with others, but also validate how very hard it is to set them. Here are important boundaries to discuss:

1) Emotional boundaries (what I feel is mine to feel and how you feel is yours to feel)

2) Physical boundaries (okay to have limits on your stuff, your money, your body autonomy, your time and energy)

 3) Intellectual boundaries (what I think and what you think can be quite different and that is okay though try to remain open to others’ thoughts)

 4) Spiritual boundaries (what I believe may be different from what you believe—but keep an open mind)

 5) Sexual boundaries (we each get to decide how much sexual touch we want and when, who, where, how).

Youth are interested in what you think and even like hearing about your own dilemmas with setting limits or leaving someone who is hurtful to us. Role play some “what if” scenarios with them. There are no right or wrong answers. Just listen and be curious. Talk about how they might support a peer who finds themselves in a hurtful relationship. Look at some helpful social media outlets and YouTube videos that address these topics, or ask your teen to find some and share them with you. Keep a respectful and loving open-mindedness as you discuss and resist interrogating or telling them how to feel. That is an instant shut-down for them. 

Things to Do:

  1. Check out books at the Peterson base library. There will be resources displayed for parents and youth during February. 
  2. Consider having your child attend a youth discussion/trivia game being held at the Youth Center on February 9th from 6-7:30 p.m. Any teen with base access can attend and must just check in with a valid parent phone number.
  3. Deep Roots, the Teen Board at Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention will present a youth panel on March 7th from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Youth Center gym. Aimed at adults, it is an opportunity to hear firsthand from teens about their struggles and their risk for suicide. 

Don’t be scared…be proactive. And use this month for some great discussions.