February is teen dating violence awareness month | Guest Column

Submitted by SAFE San Juans

By exploring the dating process, teenagers gain an understanding of life and fundamental ideas about relationships.

In our teens, we began to evaluate how we will approach and handle difficult situations. Once these habits form, they will affect our perception of healthy relationships for years to come.

In the impressionable pre-teen and teen years, kids form ideas about dating from social media, TV, movies, books, friends, and family. It is clear that some of these support and glorify unhealthy relationship behavior such as gender stereotypes, disrespect, coercion, and violence. However, as parents and other caring adults, we can help by talking to our children about teen dating violence.

Statistics show that teen dating violence is a serious problem.

• 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in one year

• One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse by a dating partner

• One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend

All these figures far exceed the rates of other types of youth violence in the U.S. Now is the time to nurture the seeds of respect, kindness, and healthy decision-making. So where do we start?

Communicate with your child about dating violence. Teenagers take cues from their surroundings. If they are witness to abuse, they might normalize it within their own relationships. Make sure you talk with your teen. If you see violence in a movie, on their social media, or if they have witnessed it first-hand; use this as an opportunity to speak to your teen. Share your values and encourage positive relationship habits.

Although statistics show that adolescent females ages 16-24 experience the highest rate of domestic violence, almost triple the national average, we know that teen dating violence affects all genders. Teens that are in violent or controlling relationship are at a much higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviors, and future domestic violence.

Looking for signs of abuse when your child is in a dating relationship is very important. Both male and females can be the victim or the perpetrator of violence. For perpetrators of domestic violence, the behavior begins between the ages of 12 and 18, and the severity is greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.

Healthy relationships take work both emotionally and mentally. Teens do not always find it comfortable to talk with their parents about their intimate relationships and they are far less likely to talk with you if they are in an unhealthy relationship.

Talk with your children even if it is uncomfortable. Remember your children are laying the groundwork for their future relationships, do not shy away from talking with them even if it is hard or embarrassing. Ask your children how their relationship is; ask questions about the interactions, mutual respect, boundaries, etc. Remember, they are more likely to come to you in the future if you show interest now.

To contact the organization, visit www.SAFEsj.org or call 360-378-8680.

The 24-hour crisis hotline on San Juan Island is 360-378-2345. Visit www.loveisrespect.org for more info.