Talking to Youth About Dating Violence

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By Erika Weisensee

Approximately one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Justice. Domestic violence is a pervasive social problem that affects people (and yes, men, too) of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. Yet, studies consistently show that young women are disproportionately vulnerable to domestic and dating violence. 

It’s impossible to know the exact numbers of teens affected by dating violence because of the reality that many incidents go unreported, but even the conservative numbers are cause for concern. According to the website of Bradley Angle House (www.bradleyangle.org), a domestic violence program in Portland, at least one in ten teens experience dating violence.

So, how do you keep teens safe? “Talk to your kids,” says Susan Cazier, who works at Clackamas Women’s Services. She encourages parents to educate themselves about the warning signs of dating violence and then teach their children to be alert for “red flags” in their own and their friends’ relationships.

Common “red flags” of dating violence include a partner who is extremely jealous, pushes for quick involvement, isolates the victim from friends and family, has mood swings, engages in frequent name-calling, and has a history of physical violence to people or animals. Just one or more of these signs is reason to be on alert.

Cazier says text-messaging has given abusers another way to control their partners. Many dating violence victims are harassed by partners who text or call them excessively to keep track of where they are. This becomes dangerous, Cazier says, when there is a “consequence” involved, like getting in trouble with your partner if he (or she) doesn’t know where you are.

Because kids seem to be “dating” younger and younger, Claire Barrera, youth program coordinator for the Bradley Angle House Emergency Shelter, says age 11 or 12 is an appropriate time to talk to most children about dating violence. However, conversations about respect and personal boundaries should begin much earlier. Pre-schoolers should be taught to speak up if and when someone hurts them or “when something feels yucky,” she says.

Many parents hit a roadblock when it comes to talking to teens about relationships. Barrera suggests fostering open dialogue by trying to engage in conversation, rather than lecturing. If you feel that you’re getting nowhere, many agencies are available for help and advice. The Bradley Angle House crisis line (503-281-2442) answers calls from around the country. Other helpful phone numbers include:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 The Multnomah County Crisis Line, 1-800-716-9769 The Oregon Youth Line, 1-877-553-TEEN (8336).

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Erika Weisensee is a writer and a native Oregonian. This article was originally published on this website in October of 2008.