BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
I experienced teen dating violence during my freshman year in high school. My boyfriend at the time was cute and popular, but abusive. He’d greet me with a kiss in the hallway, then shove or hit me on the bus ride home. He’d walk me to class one period, then ridicule me in front of my friends the next. I remember being confused by his conflicting ways, his showing genuine interest in me sometimes, then verbally and physically hurting me at others.
The confusion I experienced in that relationship began to create expectations for future relationships. Although I knew the abrasive comments and hitting weren’t normal, I began to expect that feeling of being hurt one minute and loved the next.
Things have changed a great deal since I was in high school, but I imagine teen relationships are in many ways the same. When I catch boys tightly gripping the wrists of their female partners or pinning them to walls with their body weight, it further confirms my belief.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, highlighting just how real and prevalent domestic violence, specifically teen dating violence, is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 54 percent of high-schoolers testify to intimate partner violence among their peers, and one in five girls in high school have been sexually or physically abused by a date.
Because of this, parents and educators need to play a pivotal role in helping kids define what a healthy relationship looks like, even when they don’t ask.
Highlight what’s healthy
If you want your children to form healthy relationships, expose them to healthy love, those that contradict the relationships they see in music videos and on reality TV. Nemours’ Teenhealth.org lists mutual trust, separate identities, good communication, and support as important characteristics of a healthy relationship. Perhaps there are others you want to point out to your teen.
With these values in mind, seek examples of existing relationships that personify these characteristics. For example, couples in television shows like Meet the Browns and Martin display some of the aforementioned values. Ask your child to give examples of how you and your partner embody such values. Doing this gives them concrete examples of what to expect from potential mates.
If your children currently date, provide them with a Parent and Teen Dating Contract. Denise Witmer of Parentingteens.about.com provides parents with a contract that details the guidelines and expectations teens should have while dating. Included in the contract are statements such as, “I will introduce my date to my parents before I will be able to go out alone on a date with him/her,” and “I will not date anyone ___ years older than me or anyone ___ years younger than me.” Any violation of the contract should result in a consequence that you and your child determine. If your daughter arrives home past curfew, for instance, she might lose her cellphone privileges for a week. You can find Witmer’s contract by typing “teen dating contract” in the search box. Use Witmer’s contract as is or revise it, based on your family’s expectations.
During my freshman year in high school, my parents were not even aware that I had a boyfriend. Therefore, it was difficult for me to talk to someone who could provide appropriate information to help me in that abusive relationship. Today there are many resources that teens can find on their own in order to determine whether their relationship is healthy or not. Loveisrespect.org is loaded with information and resources for young people to use to develop healthy dating attitudes and relationships. The site provides young people with resources that can help them escape abusive situations. Teens may also use the National Dating Abuse Helpline to communicate with trained peer advocates about relationships and dating. They may access the helpline by phone at 866-331-9474 or text “loveis” at 77054 seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Use these resources and others to help your teens develop healthy relationships so they can stop the cycle of domestic violence either in your family or in your community.
China Hill is a curriculum writer for KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.