AP NEWS

Meredith Gold Preventing teen dating violence in age of #MeToo

February 22, 2019

It seems impossible to get through a news cycle without at least one story about sexual harassment or violence. Adults and teens are bombarded through the news, social media and public outrage about bad behavior, victimization and what it means to get and give consent in relationships.

Parents worry about how to talk to their kids about these topics, and in the age of #MeToo, teens worry about making the wrong moves in their relationships and the resulting social and even legal consequences of their actions.

While the instances of intimate partner violence among teens are alarming — one in three adolescents in the United States is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a “dating” partner — adults have an opportunity to use this time as a teachable moment. Understanding the facts and how to talk to your teens is a critical component in keeping them safe.

Dating abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing, ethnicity, religion or culture. One in 10 high school students report they’ve been purposefully hit, slapped or physically injured by a boyfriend or girlfriend, but only 33 percent of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse. Perpetrators of intimate partner violence thrive on secrecy. They shame their victims into believing that the abuse is their fault, that they deserve it, and that things will get worse if they talk about it.

Long-term, victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. They might also engage in unhealthy behaviors, and teens who are victims in high school are also at higher risk for victimization during college and throughout their lifetimes.

For parents, the current external pressures to address these awkward and sensitive topics with their teens are an opportunity to open the lines of communication, validate their experiences, and help them practice skills and behaviors that promote positive relationships.

Here are some things to consider:

Recognize that the concept of “dating” has changed. Parents, other caring adults and even young people themselves may overlook possible warning signs of teen dating violence because they don’t label the relationship as “dating” or even consider themselves “in a relationship” at all.

Rather than the “no means no” standard for consent, which focused on the negative, make sure teens understand that affirmative consent must be informed, enthusiastic, sober, ongoing and freely given.

Talk about traits of a healthy relationship. In addition to addressing what negative, harmful and even illegal behaviors to look out for, discuss what makes a relationship positive like trust, communication, independence and taking personal responsibility.

Use news stories and fictional material such as television shows, commercials, films and music lyrics to open a dialogue with teens about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, teen dating violence, consent and challenging traditional gender roles when it comes to dating.

Listen and give support. It can be difficult to open up about abuse, and many teens fear that their parents will overreact, blame them, or be angry. Try to be supportive and non-accusatory when a child comes to you for help. Ask your child how they want to be supported and how you can help.

Importantly, one very strong protective factor for youth against all kinds of dangerous and risky behavior is having at least one close relationship with an adult other than a parent. A trusting bond between a counselor, a teacher, youth director, babysitter or coach can be the single most important factor in building resilience in young people.

Understanding and learning how to navigate through a society when norms are quickly changing isn’t easy. However, for the welfare of our kids, adults need to find a way to be a part of the solutions that create a culture where intimate partner violence is uncommon and never tolerated.

If you have questions about teen dating violence and prevention, reach out to YWCA Greenwich through our 24/7 hotline at 203-622-0003.

Meredith Gold is director of domestic abuse services at YWCA Greenwich.