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Guest commentary: We must address teen dating violence

January 13, 2019

When I was a teenager, the daily challenge was checking (and quickly deleting) the house phone answering machine for messages from my girlfriend before my parents intercepted it.

We communicated with friends on phones that were tied to a wall in the kitchen, only able to walk as far as the stretched cord would allow and still well within earshot of our parents. They knew who was calling and how often, and you can be sure they listened.

That was all before cellphones, instant messages, text messages, Facebook, disappearing ‘apps’ and cellphone cameras, all of which allow today’s teens to communicate privately, unknown to friends or family.

These private, online communications can quickly escalate to manipulation, abuse, bullying or pressure to send explicit photos. Teen relationships now exist in a world of constant communication — text messages at all hours of the day and night, and endless posts on social media. The result? One out of three teens in a dating relationship today will experience some form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. In fact, dating violence now is the most common form of violence among teens.

To combat this trend, we need to engage teens in the solution. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and I have partnered with Harbor House and City Life to present the second annual Love You To Death event at 6 p.m. Feb. 6 at the City Life Youth Center, 1820 E. Court St., Kankakee.

This free event is for teenagers, and it will engage them in real-life scenarios so they know how to identify, prevent, report and safely leave an unhealthy relationship. Every teenager in Kankakee County should be at this event, and we hope they will be.

Alongside this event, there is no better prevention than an involved parent. Talk to your sons about healthy relationships — the vast majority of dating violence is perpetrated by young males, and this cycle feeds into adulthood if not addressed. If you suspect that your son might be mistreating his girlfriend, you have a special responsibility to address this with him immediately and take appropriate action.

At the same time, four out of five young women in an abusive relationship continue to date their abuser. For parents of daughters, be sure to stress the importance of respect, self-respect and recognizing healthy boundaries. Ask questions and listen carefully to their answers — what are your friends’ dating relationships like? How does so-and-so treat you? How is your relationship going? Finally, if you suspect your teen is the victim of dating violence, make sure your teen knows you are there to help and seek out assistance from a community domestic violence agency.

In Kankakee County, call Harbor House at 815-932-5800 or access additional resources at harborhousedv.org/index.html.

Jim Rowe

Kankakee County state’s attorney

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