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Forget Me Not: Talking to Teens About Dating Violence
“He asked me out!” I squealed with joy. After two years of a high-school infatuation, he had finally asked me out. At the time, I was just shy of 16 years old and was on cloud nine. He could do no wrong and I would do anything to keep him happy and sticking around. It didn’t take long for the early warning signs to appear, but I was blind to them. Had I understood his behaviors for what they were, and acted on them, the next sixteen years of my life would have been very different. But I didn’t.
According to loveisrespect nearly 1 in every 3 adolescents in the United States is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse by a dating partner. 1.5 million students are physically abused by a dating partner each year. That is a lot of unkind behavior being dished out by those who are supposed to care for each other. Furthermore, 1 in 10 high school students have been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by someone they are dating.
In a world where there is a zero tolerance for bullying, it seems that something is amiss. How is it that we are teaching our children that bullying is unacceptable, but we have such high rates of teen dating violence? What makes a teen more likely to show aggression or use emotional manipulation against their partner? Are we teaching our teens that dating violence is a form of bullying, and something that is not acceptable?
Sadly, we may never know exactly what makes a person abusive or more likely to be a victim. Although we have an idea as to what might make a person more likely to succumb to one role or the other, there is no definitive concept that determines who we are as human beings. Childhood, home life, personality, and experiences all play a part in who are and what we deem normal behavior towards a partner. What is considered unacceptable in one home may be part of normal daily life in another. Quite honestly, we can sit here all day and piece together who is more likely to be an abuser, and who is more likely to be victimized, but the reality is that no one is safe from abuse. Some even fall into both categories as some point in their lives. There is no checklist or system for weeding out abusers before you get involved with them. Abusers and victims come in all shapes and sizes, all colors, and all education and income levels.
What we do have, however, is education and awareness. Silence and lack of understanding are how abusers thrive. Many simply do not know what they are looking for, especially our young men and women who are just entering the dating arena.
As a young girl, I excused away any behavior that was unsavory or questionable. All I wanted was for him to like me. It never crossed my mind that in the years to come he would strip me of my self-identity, physically batter me, and emotionally torment me. I didn’t see that after divorce I would have years of relearning to do, depression to deal with, and self-acceptance issues. All I saw were issues that could be fixed or were flattering.
When he wanted me to be with him, instead of my friends and family, I told myself that it was awesome he enjoyed my company so much. When he whispered negative things about my friends to me, I thought he was looking out for my best interest. When he didn’t want to hang out with my family, I made excuses for his behavior so that he would be happy with me. I did not understand what was happening, and with each year his abusive behaviors escalated.
The information is out there, but we have to be willing to find it, learn it, accept it, and share it. We have to teach our children what is acceptable behavior and what behaviors warrant addressing. We have to build our children up into adults that know how to treat their dating partners. We have to be willing to discuss the stuff that is uncomfortable and difficult.
It is said that nearly 4,000 women are killed each year as a result of domestic violence. I am lucky to be alive, but so many others are not. Educate yourself and talk to the teens in your life. Help them to navigate the dating world with the appropriate tools to protect them from potentially abusive partners. If we all work together, we can help protect them proactively from a life that no one deserves to be caught up in.