EDWARDS AFB – Family Advocacy joined teens and parents at Desert Jr.-Sr. High School last month to talk about the elephant in the room – teen dating violence. A panel of subject matter experts gathered in the cafeteria to address issues with social media, sexting, dating violence, break ups gone wrong and unhealthy relationships.
“If one person is affected by it then I think that’s something we need to address,” said Susan Cartwright, LCSW Family Advocacy Outreach Manager.
This year’s “Elephant in the Room” event was an off-shoot from last year’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month event with a larger expert panel. Among them, a detective from the L.A. Police Department, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the legal office, 412th Security Forces Squadron, chaplains and the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.
One of the hot topics of the evening was teaching parents to watch for relationship red flags. One of those red flags is a dating partner that starts to control their teenager. This can start slowly with periodic text messages asking, “Where are you?”
But over time, the text messages become increasing, asking questions like “Where are you? What are you doing? You didn’t answer my text…”
“A lot of teens misconstrue this as someone who really cares about them, when actually it may just be somebody who’s controlling them,” said Cartwright.
Another indication of a controlling dating partner is someone who starts to isolate the teen from their friends.
“A lot of teens will find themselves with basically no friends after a while because the friends don’t like that partner or they’ve been excluded because the partner doesn’t like them.”
Lack of respect is also a red flag. An example might be a dating partner that calls the teen names they are uncomfortable with. Or, this could be someone who pushes physical boundaries.
During the Elephant in the Room event, teens were encouraged to trust their instincts when it comes to feeling respected. Watching how the dating partner reacts to other boundaries like curfew can be a good indicator of the level of respect they will show in the relationship, according to Cartwright.
“Sometimes we come up with excuses for folks who are doing bad things and will overlook them because we care about them. We give them a pass when actually we should be challenging that and looking at that,” Cartwright said.
According to Cartwright, the bottom line is that the teen has a right to be respected. Even if a dating partner is not violent, they may still be abusive. The impact from emotional abuse can linger into adulthood affecting the individual’s self-esteem.
Research shows that one in three teens have experienced abuse through physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, stalking or cyber tactics. Violence has been reported in victims as young as 11 years old. Teens who are already experiencing these situations are encouraged to make a trusted adult aware of the situation.
According to Cartwright, one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship is when one of the partners decides to leave. Sometimes, it takes the teen several tries to successfully end the relationship.
Teen dating safety starts on the home front.
“Please parents, be involved in your children’s lives,” said Cartwright. “It’s great to allow freedom, but again, with parental guidance and parameters.”
Some parents show concern for their children’s safety by requiring parental supervision or a chaperone when the teens spend time with each other. Others by checking phones, email accounts and social media sites.
During Elephant in the Room, teens were also taught guidelines for internet safety. When a teen uses social media, the content they posted is no longer in their control. Deleting an image or post does not mean that it is permanently gone. They were also reminded that the people they communicate with online may not be the people they claim to be.
For more information on teen dating violence, visit http://teendvmonth.org/2015/. To report abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.