By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
I have five cousins on my maternal side--4 of whom are very close in age--ranging from 15 to 21. I’ve had the honor of watching them grow and mature into amazing teens and young adults. In fact, I’d like to give myself a pat on the back for being a great role model. Not only was I lucky enough to live close to them, but I was lucky enough to mentor them in a way.
Because of our age difference, I grew up talking to my cousins about things like relationships, both intimate and not, about drinking, drugs, college and life in general. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told them not to smoke cigarettes, not to ever try drugs, and to be careful while drinking. I’ve told them to use protection when and if they decide that they are ready to take their relationships to the next level. I’ve told them to never drink and drive, and that if they ever do decide to drink that it’s 100 percent acceptable to call me to get them home safely. I’ve told them these things knowing that as teenagers we all make mistakes, we all make bad decisions, and that no one is ever truly prepared to be a teenager. I wasn’t.
The one topic that I never really talked to them about was dating violence. But sitting here writing about the significance of Teen Dating Awareness Month, I realize that should have. Just like talking to them about parties and sex, teens need to know that dating violence is a risk factor for them. In fact, one statistic asserts that “one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence” (Love Is Respect. Org). And for the ones who are lucky enough not to face abusive dating relationships in high school, they still run the risk of dealing with it in college. Even folks who are never victims of dating violence likely know at least one perpetrator or victim, whether they know it or not. My cousins--and all of our teens--they need to know that dating violence is happening all around them.
It’s crucial to teach teenagers not only how to be good intimate partners (we can do this by having conversations and by modeling what healthy relationships like), but also what some red flags of unhealthy relationships look like. Some red flags for parents and caretakers to look for include things like a change in appearance, a lack of interest in things that one used to like, a pulling away from friends and family, bruises, a lack of self confidence, and fear of one’s partner.
Teens need to understand the difference between truly being loved, and being controlled but told that they are loved. Partners often use things like put downs and guilt as forms of violence. Many times, it’s hard for teens to realize that they are even being abused. Other red flags can be if they are spending a lot of time with their partner and decreasing time with friends and family. While it’s normal for most couples to go through a “honeymoon phase,” it’s important that teens especially don’t lose touch with other social connections.
Being a teenager is confusing And quite frankly, at 25, I still find relationships to sometimes be confusing. That’s why it’s so important for us to let our teens know that not all relationships are healthy, that both boys and girls can be victims of dating violence, and that there are so many great resources out there that can provide help. Teen’s dealing with dating violence or stalking are never alone!
Parents, here is a list of a few great websites to share with your teens:
An important number to know if you suspect a teen is dealing with dating violence is:
1−800−799−SAFE(7233), or TTY 1−800−787−3224