Love Should't Hurt!
February is upon us and everyone’s mind will be on Valentine’s Day. Dinners, cards, chocolates, and romance will be on the agenda this month. For some lucky couples, an engagement may be in the works. Romance will be in the air for many couples of all ages. While some will celebrate the month of love, the harsh reality is for many Valentine’s Day will be anything but romantic.
As parents, we want to protect our children every minute of the day, but we have learned that it is an impossible goal. When our teens explore relationships and eventually start dating, we worry about so many things. Naturally, we are concerned about sex, pregnancy, and broken hearts. We pray they remember everything we taught and preached about consent and safe sex. One of the last things that crosses most of our minds is abuse. In fact, according to LoveisRespect, a national nonprofit resource aimed at empowering youth to prevent and end teen dating violence, 81% of parents believe that teen dating violence is not an issue, or admit they don’t know it’s an issue. Unfortunately, that is because we assume it won’t happen to our child. We assume our child would not abuse another person. We don’t ponder Teen Dating Violence because we equate relationship violence as an adult problem. It is not something discussed regularly as a teen problem. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Teens are experiencing TDV at an alarming rate.
Teen Dating Violence affects adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19, and comprises four types of toxic behavior. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological aggression and stalking are all acts of TDV. These behaviors occur both in person and electronically. Statistics show that one in three adolescents in the United States have been in an abusive relationship. Think about that statistic for a moment; that means 33% of any school. This is terrifying! According to The Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one in 11 female and one in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence. They also report that one in nine female and one in 36 male high school students have experienced sexual dating violence. On average, 26% of females and 15% of males are victims of Teen Dating Violence before the age of 18.
How did we get here? First, there is a definite lack of education and resources available for parents and teens. Many schools removed sex education from the curriculum. With that, teens are no longer learning about healthy relationships or consent. School counselors are there, but teens don’t utilize them. They aren’t being told they can. In a perfect world, our kids would talk to us about relationships; however, that is not always an option for all children. My kids know that if they are not comfortable coming to me, they have several close “aunts” or “uncles” they can turn to. I would rather they turn to a trusted adult than get terrible advice or false information from another teenager.
We don’t discuss Teen Dating Violence like we do Domestic Violence. Advertisements for shelters, and for help-lines are regularly on television. We hear horrific stories on the news and watch triggering scenes in movies. However, all the above almost always depict adults. Why? How come we do not see commercials for TDV help-lines? Why don’t we see teen dating violence depicted in movies? It’s because it is uncomfortable and comfortable. No one likes to feel uncomfortable. However, sometimes people need to feel uncomfortable to realize what is happening around them.
As always, education starts at home. Talk to our children about consent. We need to talk to them about sexting, stalking, and abuse. We need to open the lines of communication, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them, or us. As parents, we have to stop saying things like “Boys will be Boys.” We need to stop telling our sons and daughters that “He hit you because he likes you”. We are literally telling them what every abuser tells their victim. I did it because I love you. Stop! Stop telling kids it is normal to hit someone you like or to be hit by someone who likes them. Also, it is important to remember that kids learn about healthy relationships from their parents. They emulate what they see and hear. If a daughter hears her father verbally abuse her mother, she may eventually become numb to it, and consider it acceptable behavior.
Now is the perfect time to talk to your children about Teen Dating Violence. They are never too young. Talk to them about abuse; emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual. Let them know they can come to you, and that you are always there for him. Teach them how to not be a victim. Most importantly, teach them that LOVE SHOULDN’T HURT!
For more information on Teen Dating Violence and Prevention, please visit the websites below.