Adults, pull up a chair. It's time for us to talk.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. In cases reviewed by the Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, nearly fifty percent of domestic violence homicide victims began their relationships with their perpetrators between the ages of 13-24. Adults, we need to take intimate and dating relationships between young people seriously.
As defined by Loveisrespect.org, teen dating violence is "a pattern of behaviors one person uses to gain and maintain power and control over their partner". Dating violence includes more than one partner physically harming the other. Stalking their partner's location; coercing and forcing sexual acts; breaking into social media accounts and; excessively calling and texting are all dating violence behaviors.
A study on teen dating violence shows that if trapped in a dating violence relationship, about one-third of young people shared that they would not tell anyone about the violence they are experiencing, especially an adult. With one out of three young people experiencing a dating violence relationship in their adolescence, there are many teens that could use the support of a trusting and safe adult.
So you are thinking, why do teens not talk to us adults? Why do they choose to keep their relationships a secret? The answer is simple: young people often feel that adults disrespect or distrust their relationships.
Unfortunately, some adults minimize concerns and issues that teenagers experience in their relationships, find ways to prevent young people from dating altogether or avoid opportunities to educate, inform or discuss topics such as sex, consent, abuse and safety while dating. With young people engaging in romantic and intimate relationships with their peers at earlier ages, it is essential that adults become aware of some of their "distancing" behaviors that prevent young people from speaking with them and get prepared to have conversations about dating violence. Here are three ways adults can be safe and supportive allies to teenagers in dating violence relationships:
1) Build your self-awareness.
How do you speak to your child about dating and dating violence? Is your conversation solely focused on setting limits and explaining consequences? Do you shrug off and wave away their concerns about their partner's behavior? Or do you change the subject entirely when topics such as safe sex arise? Reflect on how you approachdiscussions on teen dating and see if you can make adjustments to your perspective in an effort to invite your child to speak with you.
2) Offer safety planning suggestions.
In discussions with your child about their relationship, you may notice signs they could be experiencing dating violence. Before jumping into Superhero Parent mode, offer ways your child can think proactively about their safety. Questions that encourage this thinking include "What would you like to do?" and "How can I help?". Offering, rather than forcing, safety planning suggestions can positively impact how a young person thinks about their relationship and how to stay safe in the long-term. Together, you both can create a safety plan that best fits your child's needs.
3) Support Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Healthy Relationships Programs to be taught in your child's school.
There are a variety of trained professionals passionate about preventing dating violence and promoting healthy relationships right in your own community. These programs discuss ways to safely communicate in relationships and friendships, how to establish boundaries, ways to seek help and much more. Find ways to connect with and support dating violence prevention programs to provide programming in schools to your children and their peers. Advocate for these prevention programs at your local Parent Teacher Association meetings and bring these programs to your child's school's attention.
In light of Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, be encouraged that teen dating violence can be prevented. With us adults making adjustments in our approach, discussing safety planning and connecting to prevention programs in our communities, we can truly make a difference in ending the dating violence that occurs between young people.
For more information on dating violence, domestic violence and how you can get involved, check out the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.