How You Can Help Build a Culture Without Abuse
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. There is a great way for you — a caring adult — to make a real difference this month. Currently, 1 in 3 young people experience some form of dating violence in their lives. In 2010, Congress recognized the efforts of youth and adult allies nationwide and began dedicating the entire month of February to teen dating violence awareness and prevention. Observing this awareness month shows our national resolve to raise awareness about the issue, promote programs that support young people, and encourage communities to prevent this form of abuse.
We can and must share in that resolve together — even if it means having the tough conversations with the young people in our lives. When I look at my own children, I still see them as carefree and young. When my eldest went off to college this year, I was forced to face the reality that my “babies” are actually two dynamic young people who feel empowered to make their own decisions. They date and love, struggle, and face tough choices. In fact, my own family mirrors what I hear from youth in our national movement, Let’s Be Real. They tell me that they start dating in the fourth grade! And as they continue to grow, relationships become even more complex and difficult to navigate. The one “headline” for all of us parents to know is that young people date whether we are ready for it to happen or not. Knowing that, it is clear that the time to talk about dating abuse and healthy relationships is now.
Even from a young age, we can start laying the foundation for our children to make smart choices about relationships. Lessons about boundaries, respect, and consent can be tailored to age-appropriate circumstances. For example, letting your child know that they don’t have to hug a relative if they feel uncomfortable instills the knowledge that your child has control over their own body. Teaching a young person that they never have a “right” to someone’s time, space, or energy encourages respect for others’ decisions and boundaries and the ability to accept a “no” with grace. As they get older, approaching the hard truths about abuse and the signs to watch for — like constant check-ins from partners, explosive tempers, and isolation from friends — can help a young person know when it’s time to ask for help.
These conversations are never easy, but prevention is key to ending dating and domestic abuse. Talk with a young person in your life about relationships. Every conversation brings us closer to our ultimate goal: a culture without abuse. Check out Break the Cycle’s tips for caring parents and adults to help you start the conversations. Find other resources for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month at www.breakthecycle.org/teendvmonth and girlshealth.gov.
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.