This article presents one way to begin a conversation with teens and pre-teens about relationships, respect, and warning signs of an abusive relationship.
“Junior High kids talk ‘Teen Dating Violence’ at Cody CDC” was originally posted on Pentagram
What is one way to get teenagers to talk about an important issue like relationship abuse and sexting for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month?
Show them a prominent crime show on YouTube about a fictional character who experiences real-life trauma and then discuss it.
For February, Army Community Service Family Advocacy program victim advocate and School Age Services leader, Jalessa Robinson, showed seven students Law & Order: Special Victims Units (SVU) Feb. 10 at The Cody Child Development Center. This particular show was about a female high school student who was in an abusive relationship, one that almost killed her.
“Kids are being exposed to things younger and younger these days,”said Lindsay Seals, a domestic abuse victim advocate at Fort Myer; Seals led a round-table discussion with the students after the show. “The hope was to start with the younger teens so that we could educate them on teen abuse [in order] that they might be aware of what [abuse looks like] — because it can be hard to identify.”
Jasmine Uribe — leadership and engagement manager at Break the Cycle, an organization that specializes in helping teens through abuse — said that it was good for those students to see real life events through a fictional character. Uribe added that we must help teenagers to identify what a healthy relationship looks like.
“We also need to spend a lot of time talking to them to help them to identify what [a healthy relationship looks like], and getting students to identify for themselves what healthy behaviors are,” she said.
Uribe added that teenagers need and “deserve” to be taught what it means to be involved in a healthy relationship.
Using social media (the show was viewed on YouTube) as a tool to catch the students’ attention, according to research, isn’t a bad idea. In 2015, Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children flourish, showed that “teenagers (ages 13-18) use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day and that tweens (ages 8-12) use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework.”
“Our team from the Family Advocacy program and domestic abuse victims’ advocacy program just kind of had a forum and we discussed what would be most effective for the kids and someone suggested using media to catch the kids attention,” said Seals.
In the roundtable discussion, Seal asked students to recall some of the violence they had witnessed while watching the 45-minute show. They pointed out that the fictional character had been stalked, physically abused, blackmailed and publicly shamed. They also said that some of the abuse was due, in part, to naked photos being viewed by her peers on mobile devices.
According to a study titled Teen Dating Violence, conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, relational violence is prevalent “among adult victims of rape, physical violence, and/ or stalking by an intimate partner, 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.” Victims, according to the CDC, experience sexual, psychological and even emotional abuse. Aggressors often use electronic devices and social media websites to stalk and abuse their victims the study showed. [See: Teen Dating Violence Page posted by the CDC}
“We wanted to talk to the students about the role sexting played in the abuse,” explained Seals. “There is a lot of intersectionalities when we come across issues of abuse. It would be much easier to isolate [different kinds of abuse] and target each one of them, but the truth is there are a lot of different intersecting issues.”
Uribe, who has trained military parents and personnel on teen dating violence, said there is an importance in educating the teenagers because if they don’t understand what abuse looks like within their relational context, then they will fail to [properly] identify it.
“Intimacy and relationships at a young age look differently than what we as adults tend to think,” said Uribe. “Not talking about it early on means that they are not going to recognize the earlier warning signs.”
Uribe said teenagers’ ideas about romantic relationships are unoriginal. She said they take their cues from media and family members. Some adults within those relationships, Uribe said, unknowingly exemplify abusive behaviors that have become normalized within society. Teenagers see these and emulate them.
For example, Uribe said extreme jealousy is common within relationships but is considered a form of abuse. She said when aggressors exemplify extreme jealousy they tend to control and become very possessive by telling people what to wear and who they can and cannot talk to.
In addition to this, Uribe said teenagers in an abusive relationship who begin to isolate themselves is problematic.
“I often tell parents that if you notice your child was really into a sport or an activity and they are talking to this person or in a relationship with this person and all of sudden they stop doing the things that they like, that is isolation and that is a warning sign,” Uribe.
She said that abusers can use anger and peer pressure as weapons. She said that some teenagers will pressure other teens to text nude pictures and to post them on social media (Facebook or Twitter) or SnapChat.
Image: Pentagram post