Healthy relationship examples crucial for youth, experts say|
by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs
2/10/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- In the race to stop domestic violence, educating children before they date can provide the awareness for healthy relationships when they become adults.
In the crucial years before youth start dating, parents and peers impact children's perceptions of appropriate dating behavior. "This is a time they're developing and forming," said April Jones, outreach manager for the Maxwell Family Advocacy Program.
"Kids are getting into dating relationships much younger (today than their parents)," said Beverly Lesyea, Family Advocacy Program officer. "Teaching them positive, healthy behaviors within a relationship is a good thing."
Daphne O'Hair, the installation's domestic abuse victim advocate, has worked around the country with victims, many as young as age 11.
Peer pressure to begin a relationship and stay in one sometimes pushes children into abusive situations.
"Early education leads to good self-esteem, good decision-making skills," she said.
Parents may not even realize the severity of the situation, writing it off as a youthful prank or teenage drama, which is why family advocacy encourages parents to learn about the signs and recognize when their children need help.
O'Hair said it can be hard for parents to distinguish abuse from typical teenage angst - difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, isolation from friends, trouble focusing in school. This is why all parents need to talk to their children, and make them more aware of the red flags apparent in unhealthy relationships before they become abusive relationships.
Warning signs of unhealthy relationships include dishonesty, a feeling one partner is trying to be in control over the other and ignoring the consequences of sex.
Situations can become abusive when one mistreats the other, either physically or emotionally. Sometimes abusers blame the victims or limit with whom victims can talk or sustain friendships.
Some situations O'Hair has seen include two children entering into a relationship against parents' wishes. As a control measure, one child tells the other he or she will tell parents unless the other does what is asked.
Sometimes parents drop their children off at a location they feel is safe, such as another child's house with the parents at home. But not all parents are consistent about phone and internet use. "You may trust your kids, but what happens at someone else's house?" O'Hair asked.
Parents may see texting as harmless, but without proper supervision, it can get out of control.
Some children get excessive texts from their partners, and they feel loved with all the extra attention. "They don't always recognize this as controlling behavior," Lesyea said.
When the texts get obsessive, sometimes youth don't realize their partners have crossed a line. They may be reluctant to say something to their parents for fear the phone may be taken away, or they fear if they speak up, the partners may retaliate.
Parents also should be extra-vigilant, since youth may not come to them with their problems.
In one study, 83 percent of 10th-graders said they would sooner turn to a friend than an adult, including a parent, for help with dating abuse, according to The Clothesline Project, a national organization raising awareness of violence against women.
The staff of Family Advocacy Program encourages parents to start the conversation, the earlier the better.
Events educate parents, teensThe Maxwell Family Advocacy Program approaches violence prevention from two fronts, educating both parents and children about the impact of teen dating abuse.
Maxwell Elementary Middle School and the Integrated Delivery System are assisting with Teen Domestic Violence Awareness Month events throughout February.
· At 1 p.m. on Valentine's Day, military youth ages 11 to 18 are invited to a video dance party at the Maxwell fitness annex. The event includes refreshments, goody bags, education and fitness.
· Daphne O'Hair, the base domestic violence victim advocate, will host a workshop on cyber safety from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Falcon's Nest at Gunter. Parents are encouraged to bring their own lunch.
The workshop will discuss ways children are impacted by technology, such as cyber bullying, sexting and gaming. O'Hair will provide parents with information on safe social media and cell phone use.
"(Technology) is so much more advanced today than when we were kids," O'Hair said. And since many attackers can be anonymous, the abuse is becoming crueler, she said.
· The Family Guidance Center of Alabama will offer information on relationship smarts for parents from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Falcon's Nest.
Experts will discuss how parents should talk to their children about relationships to build a foundation for healthy future relationships.
"Parents didn't grow up in the world these kids are growing up in," said April Jones, outreach manager for the Maxwell Family Advocacy Program.
For information on these events, contact the Family Advocacy Program at 953-2434.