JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
You meet their friends. You monitor their internet usage. You keep an eye on their grades. But you can’t be there all the time, and for some of us, that brings a certain amount of anxiety. You know they aren’t babies anymore but watching them grow up comes with joy, pride, and often fear. And let’s be honest, there is a lot to be afraid of. Violence is very prevalent in our world. What is a parent to do? How can we truly help our children?
Of course, there are many things you could be doing but I want to suggest there is one area that may be rarely addressed in households: Dating Violence.
According to the CDC, “Among high school students who dated, 21% of females and 10% of males experienced physical and/or sexual dating violence.” That is 1 in 5 females, and 1 in 10 males. The issue isn’t just a concern for today’s youth. It is an epidemic. Merriam Webster defines epidemic as: affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time. I think we can agree that 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 is “affecting a disproportionately large number of individuals”. Parents have an obligation, and the privilege of being an agent for change in this area of their children’s lives.
In this time of COVID, we have heard a lot of talk about vaccines. We recognize the importance of vaccines in preventing illnesses in our population. In much the same way, parents can inoculate their children to dating violence. I don’t mean to suggest that you can always prevent it, but you can reduce the likelihood that it happens to your child.
First, we need to understand what it is. The CDC has defined it for us. Teen dating violence is intimate partner abuse. It can be physical, psychological, sexual or stalking. Physical abuse is hitting, pushing, biting, punching, kicking, slapping or strangulation. It is the intentional inflicting of pain on another person. It often will result in bruising or other injuries. Psychological abuse includes damaging a person’s self-worth. It usually involves name calling, shaming, bullying and isolating. Sexual abuse is any unconsented to sexual touch. Stalking is a way to threaten the victim. The use of the internet has become a big problem in the continued abuse, harassment and shaming of victims. If you notice any of these aspects with your child and in their relationship, it is important to reach out for support right away. Family Advocacy can help.
Before you see these patterns, you can take some preventive measures.
1. Don’t expose your child to domestic violence. If you are in a violent situation, you need to understand the effect this may have on your child’s perception on the appropriateness and normalcy of violence. Leaving a violent situation is not easy but there is an advocate on this base to help you walk through the process. Please call Family Advocacy for support.
2. Poor self-esteem, depression, and anxiety are risk factors for youth to become involved in violent relationships. Seek appropriate attention for your teen if they are struggling with self-worth or mental health issues.
3. Talk about Dating- Do you know what current slang is being used for dating, sex, and sexual activity? Do you know what your teen knows? Do you know what their peers are doing, what they are seeing in others’ relationships? Have you asked your teen about what their expectations are in their relationships?
4. Help set personal boundaries: Tell your children your expectations. It is appropriate for you to explain what your expectations are for them. As a child, they still need help navigating the world. Give them that guidance. Ask your children what their personal boundaries are. Help children to understand that they can tell other people what their boundaries are and expect that those will be honored.
5. Give several pathways to help. Some youth may be embarrassed to tell you that they are in a violent relationship. Stay open and available to your child but also let them know that there are other avenues to explore support: a school counselor, MFLAC, the chapel, and Family Advocacy may all be professional supports. Your child may be close to a relative or friend you both trust. Help your child identify trustworthy people who can help in times of crisis. Teens can receive anonymous support through the Love is Respect Organization by texting “loveis” to 22522.
6. Discuss in clear terms what behaviors are inappropriate in a relationship. Controlling, intimidating, physically harmful, sexually aggressive behaviors are not appropriate. These conversations can happen naturally when watching TV or movies, listening to music, or witnessing peer relationships. Help teens to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships.
In February we have a couple of different activities to help you work with your teens.
On February 4th from 11:30-12:30 we will be offering a virtual Lunch and Learn based on the book When Dating Becomes Dangerous: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Relationship Abuse. Call our office to register. All participants receive a copy of the book.
On February 9th there is an online presentation for parents by Detective Feehan from the New Jersey State Police, Internet Crimes Against Children Unit. She will discuss with you dangers and safe measures you can take as a parent to protect your child against abuses that can happen over the internet.
Following that presentation on Feb 11th, Detective Feehan will also virtually present to youth on the same issues. If you would like more information regarding this program for yourself or your child, please feel free to contact the Family Advocacy Program.
If you are interested in the above events or have any questions, please contact the Family Advocacy Program at 609-754-9680.
Teens should be able to date, to have fun, and socialize. Let’s help them do it safely!
“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's Most-Trusted Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/.
“Understanding Teen Dating Violence.” CDC.gov, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/teen-dating-violence.