Teen – June 2009

Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Adressing Teen Dating Violence By S.C. Torrington

According to tverbal abusehe National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), approximately one in three teen girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
In light of this troubling statistic, odds are your teenager has a friend, or a friend of a friend, who is being abused. In fact, there’s a possibility that your child could become a victim herself.
On its Family Violence Prevention Fund website (see sidebar), the NCCD also maintains that girls exposed to interpersonal violence are more likely to be exposed to other forms of violence, show a greater propensity for unsafe sexual activity, and have a higher incidence of substance abuse and suicide than boys or non-abused girls.
Local and national resources can help families with teens recognize and prevent abuse as well as counsel those who may be experiencing verbal abuse and/or physical violence in their relationships.
TurnAround, Inc., a nonprofit organization headquartered in Towson, provides a wide range of services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, including counseling, shelter, supportive services, and community education. For more than 30 years, the group has recognized the diverse needs of survivors of domestic violence and regularly updates its programs to provide the most comprehensive services possible to adults, teens, and children.
“While we have always served adolescents in unhealthy relationships, as public awareness of this problem grows, so does the number of teens who seek help,” says Rosalyn Branson, executive director of TurnAround. “We provide individual and group counseling for teens. In addition, we provide on-site groups at local schools. Our Community Education and Training Program also reaches more than 5000 youth a year with presentations on healthy relationships.”
Unfortunately, some adolescents derive their concept of a healthy relationship from marketing campaigns, movies, television, music, and popular personalities. For instance, in movies and on television, the “bad boy” persona often has been portrayed as being attractive to girls. TurnAround encourages teens to discuss with each other the benefits of healthy relationships and to uncover how the media more often portrays unhealthy relationships to create a sense of drama.
“Through these interactive discussions, teens come to realize that what they see in the media is not the norm and is not the preferred type of relationship,” notes Branson. “In addition, we encourage teens to defy gender stereotypes and to just be themselves in relationships and to be honest with their partners.”
TurnAround’s Teen Empowerment Group is a therapy group for adolescents who have been sexually assaulted. According to Marie Lilly, a community educator and outreach specialist at TurnAround, therapists work with the girls not only to deal with their feelings regarding the assault, but also to help them develop healthy and fulfilling relationships. The group uses several strategies including art and drama therapy.
Another resource to help prevent teen dating violence is the website www.FindYouthInfo.gov. It offers interactive tools and information developed by the federal government to help community organizations and schools support their youth. Its Safe Dates program, intended for middle and high school students, is designed to stop or prevent the initiation of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse on dates or between individuals involved in a dating relationship.
The program includes nine 50-minute sessions, a 45-minute play to be performed by students, and a poster contest. Topics cover “Defining Caring Relationships vs. Dating Abuse” and “Why Do People Abuse?” One session, “How We Feel, How We Deal,” helps students learn effective ways to recognize and handle anger through a diary along with a discussion of hot buttons so that anger does not lead to abusive behavior.

How Parents Can Help
Branson suggests that any adult who suspects a teen is in a violent relationship should offer a support system. Talk about the relationship. Adults should also ask questions such as, “Do you think it’s normal for your boyfriend/girlfriend to call you every 10 minutes?” or “How much jealousy do you think is okay?”
Sometimes, however, it’s difficult for parents to reach out to their teens, because they themselves are involved in an unhealthy adult relationship.
“Whenever we see a survivor of domestic violence, we strongly encourage [her] to also get help for [her] children. The earlier children who witness violence get some sort of support and intervention, the less likely they are to repeat this cycle,” says Lilly. “Adolescents are sometimes referred to us by parents, school counselors, or private therapists to work on dealing with their reactions to the abuse of a parent. A major goal of all of our therapy is to break the cycle of violence and to prevent re-victimization for all our survivors, regardless of age.” BC

Online Resources
National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Family Violence Prevention Fund, endabuse.org.
TurnAround, www.turnaroundinc.org. For the 24-hour Hotline, call 410-828-6390.
Futures Without Violence, www.futureswithoutviolence.orgwww.endabuse.org.
Find Youth Info, www.findyouthinfo.gov.
Love is Not Abuse, www.loveisnotabuse.com.
That’s Not Cool, www.thatsnotcool.com.
©Baltimore’s Child – June 2009

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