February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
February 2023 is here, another Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM) has taken off, and if there is one sad truth I've had to face working with teens in various schools throughout Beaufort, Jasper, & Colleton counties,
... it’s that teens don't like talking to their parents.
Perhaps we all knew that already but how many parents are concerned about the "why." If they aren’t talking to you about their relationships, how will you know if something is seriously wrong?
WISE Club members in middle and high schools have expressed feeling a lack of safety and warmth when trying to explain anything serious to their parents and are often met with statements like "Oh this is just a phase, you will grow out of that" or “You don’t know real love yet” and “well, when I was your age...” But we’re not their age though. It's 2023 and with so many conflicting views on the internet, social media, in music, and even in the home about what a relationship should look like, teens (and pre-teens) are truly struggling to grasp what is indeed healthy, unhealthy, or even abusive behaviors.
Toxicity is normalized behind the phone screens they are glued to. As hard as it may seem to understand, our teens do know what love is, they do experience pain and abuse in various forms, and unfortunately some of their own tolerance and abusive tendencies come from US. It doesn’t matter if you have a teenager in your home, a niece or nephew down the street, or the same teen you pass traveling to work in the mornings, they are OURS and there are small things we can do to influence healthy relationships in their lives. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it's that watching someone experience abuse is challenging, especially if that person is someone you know and love. Abuse is all about power and control, meaning there may be a clear imbalance in the relationship where one partner has or ends up with more power and control over the other.
No worries though, I’m going to do you a favor! I want to share with you a few tips I have learned and heavily practice in the past three years that I’ve been a Hopeful Horizons Violence Prevention Specialist – these tips have yet to fail me.
Listen without judgement and interruption. I know it is hard when you see your kids in certain situations and want the best for them, but you should create a space of safety for them where they can be vulnerable with you, without you immediately trying to correct their behavior or tell them how they should feel. This is gaslighting. EXPLORE those feelings, try to understand them, and seek help if you need further support. It will pay off in the long run.
Allow them to make their own decisions. This one is tough because we always think we know what’s best for our kids. While this can be true in most cases, there are times when “our best” is harmful to them and their needs. You have to trust that you have modeled and shared healthy information with them so they may be equipped to make these decisions. In WISE Club, we use an evidence-based approach where we don’t offer advice, rather we share relatable experiences. I NEVER tell club members what to do or how they should do it. I simply give them the facts. I’m vulnerable with them about certain outcomes they can expect and empower them to make the choice they think is best. When you unlock this door, you’ll find it revolving because they will not only learn to respect you but value your input.
Know Your Stuff. Do you know the difference between a healthy relationship versus one that is unhealthy or abusive? Which of these behaviors are you modeling at home? At Hopeful Horizons, we offer various training opportunities for the youth, parents, teachers and staff, and all other community members and partners so that you feel equipped to help teens navigate these relationships both platonically and romantically.
Now that I have given you the recipe, it’s YOUR turn to make the sauce. This year’s theme for TDVAM is BE ABOUT IT! I challenge all parents in our communities to really Be About It this year!
Be About Education. Learn the different ways violence shows up in a relationship. Know the warning signs because your teen may be a victim of dating violence or worse, abusing someone else.
Be About Engagement. You can participate in Wear Orange Day with your teen or family on Tuesday February 7 and tag Hopeful Horizons on Instagram and Facebook.
Lastly, Be about Empowerment. Empower your children to be the very best version of themselves without judgement, criticism, and instilling fear in them first.
We have orange ribbons and wrist bands available in the Bluffton, Walterboro and Beaufort offices for anyone who would like to spread TDVAM awareness all month long.
It has been an honor being your teen’s facilitator and or speaker at their school, and I thank you for all the hard work and dedication you pour into their lives.
Violence Prevention Specialist, Hopeful Horizons