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February is a Time to Discuss Healthy Dating Relationships with Youth

11 Feb 19
Gayle Nelson
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While many see February as a time for romance, it is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. At first, it may seem a paradoxical connection, but consider: 

  • 1 in 3 girls is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner;
  • One in ten high school students in the U.S. has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend; 
  • And, only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship told anyone about it;
  • In a recent survey of 604 children aged 11 to 18, Between Friends, a domestic violence prevention agency in Chicago, found that less than 25% of respondents reported that their parents or guardians know “a lot” or “everything” about their relationships with others (whether friendships or romantic partners);
  • Although 82% of parents are confident they could recognize the problem, 58% of them could not correctly identify all the warning signs.

Sex trafficking of minors is a traumatic, severe form of child abuse. Teens, who experience sexual abuse as children are more susceptible to experiencing sex trafficking as older teens and adults. It is the commercial aspect of sex trafficking that separates the crime of trafficking from sexual assault and dating violence. When the pattern of abuse begins in adolescence—violent behavior often begins between 12 and 18, the severity of adult intimate partner violence is often greater. Yet, many parents do not know sex trafficking occurs in their community and are unable to identify the warning signs that their teen might be in a violent relationship.  

To keep children from harmful relationships and sex trafficking, we need to do a better job of educating them and their parents about healthy relationships, how to identify the warning signs of abuse, and what to do about it if they believe a child is being abused. JCAST Chicago partnered with Jewish Child and Family Services parent educator, Tracey Kite to create a new parenting program. Its goal is to help parents explain consent and healthy relationships and build a better understanding of what youth see online and in their social circles.

Here are tips, some from the children’s own survey responses, for communicating with your youth about relationships:

  • Help them understand their relationship related decision-making and how to consider the possible consequences of their choices. Don’t blame them or be judgmental about choices they make. 
  • Pick a discussion time that works for them not just you; pick a positive time or someplace neutral or fun, and don’t lecture. The youth said they wanted adults not to tell them they’re too young to talk about it.
  • Be willing to listen and talk about your own experiences, values, and expectations. This means having thought through your own values to know what you approve of and disapprove of, and why. 
  • Discuss with them the emotional aspects of dating, the relationships they see in media, and whether they are realistic or idealized ones.
  • Learn how to have the conversations. Review definitions of consent and other video or video to educate yourself and your teen.

If you would like to learn more about JCAST’s two-session program for parents, Let’s Talk About Girls (Boys): Sexuality and Consent in the Internet and #MeToo Age and or host one or both of the programs at your Synagogue, library, or other location, please contact Gayle. And don’t forget to wear orange with your children and peers to create an opportunity for a conversation about healthy dating relationships. 

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