February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three teenagers who have been in a relationship have experienced dating violence.
This violence is often physical abuse, but can also be emotional, sexual or verbal abuse, said Aly Jarocki, prevention training and education advocate with Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS).
“Teen dating violence is really rooted in the same issue of power and control, when one person uses abusive tactics or power control dynamics to change that relationship to a place where one person feels like they have control over the other,” Jarocki said.
A few factors could lead to the high incidence of teen dating violence, Jarocki said. She said the media portrayal of relationships often includes toxic ideas, but teens base their idea of what a relationship should be from what they have seen. Additionally, Jarocki said many teens are working hard to achieve a level of independence, so they may experience more isolation from the guiding hands of their family.
Because of this, Jarocki said it is important for parents to have conversations with teens indirectly – for example, discussing the merit of a relationship portrayed in media – and directly about teens’ relationships.
“The biggest piece is just to have that conversation,” Jarocki said. “A lot of people are really intimidated about having that conversation, but it’s really important to have a dialogue, rather than interrogating, rather than preaching. That’s really a way to turn teens off.”
Additionally, Jarocki said changes in a teen’s mindset can happen slowly, even after a conversation about an unhealthy or abusive relationship has taken place. It won’t help to push someone to end a relationship if they are not ready to do so, she said. That could instead further the isolation they experience.
“That teen might not be ready to leave that relationship,” Jarocki said. “They might need time to figure that out and that’s okay.”
Rather, she said it is important to have an open door for the teen, and offer help connecting them to resources that exist at schools or DAIS.
Jarocki suggests parents follow the following tips when talking to teens about dating violence:
- ask open-ended, prompting questions about the relationship and how it’s going
- listen non-judgmentally
- use supportive statements
- recognize how the teen feels about the relationship without projecting your thoughts on the relationship into the conversation
- let the teen know you’re on their side
Jarocki also said many teens experiencing dating violence will turn first to another friend. She suggests teens that know a friend who is experiencing dating violence should follow three core steps: listen, support and offer resources. She also suggests teens who talk to a friend experiencing dating violence follow the following tips:
- believe what they are telling you
- listen to as much or as little as they want to tell
- support their decisions
- don’t interrogate them or push them to make decisions
- offer resources, such as a parent, someone at school, or the resources provided by DAIS
The DAIS 24-hour help line at 608-251-4445 is free and confidential, and is open to both individuals experiencing domestic violence and family and friends who want help figuring out how to help someone they care about who is experiencing domestic violence.
Event seeks to empower teens
As part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) will hold a collaborative event seeking to empower teens and build stronger communities.
The first of three Empower series sessions, the DAIS Empower Session on Teens takes place Wednesday, Feb. 22 from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St., Madison. The event is free and open to the public.
The session will feature short talks by speakers from GSAFE, Operation Fresh Start, and La Follette High School Men Encouraging Nonviolent Strength (MENS) club, an initiative offered through DAIS for middle- and high-school aged males. The MENS program provides youth a space in which to discuss gender roles, communication, conflict resolution and healthy relationships.