Teen dating violence awareness

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

2/19/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- Going out on that first date can be one of the most magical moments of a teen's life. It can also be the most dangerous.

Family Advocacy, Maxwell Elementary Middle School and Maxwell's community support coordinator teamed up this week to share the importance of healthy dating and friendships as a part of February's Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

Col. Trent Edwards, 42nd Air Base Wing commander, presented certificates' for their participation in this week's events themed "Love is Respect."

The Valentine's Day Zumba dance party was the climax of the week Thursday, where students bounced along to Latin tunes with Capt. Neysa Etienne, mental health clinical psychologist, and her troupe, and shared their thoughts on what they had learned.

Parents learned Wednesday about social media interactions and how to safely monitor their children's activity.

MEMS students were shown a video and given interactive handouts and games to recognize the differences between a true friend and those who are only pretending, with the intent of causing them harm.

Eighth grader Kiara Cornelius found the video powerful, after seeing a girl her age lured away from her family and into a dangerous situation by an online predator she thought was a friend.

"Kids need to be aware about things like that, that could happen to them," she said about the video. "It's fortunate that the girl wasn't killed. Many teens are not so fortunate."

Dating violence can include physical, verbal or emotional, sexual and digital abuse intended to physically harm, threaten, insult, humiliate, intimidate, isolate or control a partner. Such abuse can occur in a relationship or it can be a pattern of unhealthy behaviors regardless of a partner's sex, ethnicity, social status, age or religious preference.

Today, technology, such as social media, blogging, texting and videos, plays a large part in dating relationships, causing an increase in emotional abuse through cyber bulling, online predators and sexting, or the sending of inappropriate self-photos, according to Family Advocacy.

"When a kid has been talking to someone online, they no longer see them as a stranger," said Daphne O'Hair, domestic abuse victim advocate. "Because their world is so centered around the Internet, and online relationships they have no problem meeting with someone they have never met."

O'Hair added that parents need to be aware of how easily online predators can acquire information through Internet searches and social media to locate, stalk and possibly harm their child.

To avoid digital abuse, O'Hair suggested that parents help set up their child's Facebook account, making sure strong privacy settings and account passwords are set. Parents also should be friends with each of their child's online friends and check their child's page on a regular basis.

A parent's involvement in their child's life is the best protective measure against harmful dating. O'Hair said keeping the line of communication open will reduce the child's fear of getting in trouble and thus becoming more open to sharing their problems with them.

"It starts with the parents. The most proactive thing that a parent can do is have a great relationship with their kids," she said. "Yes, they may have to be grounded for a week or two, but no matter what happens, they can always come and talk to them."

Parents also should become acquainted with their children's friends and their parents in order to learn more about them and their values.

Some ways for teens to date safely are allowing parents to chaperone their dates, dating in public or in well lit areas, group dating, checking in with parents throughout the date and creating a list of dating guidelines with the parents beforehand covering curfews and boundaries.

Sometimes, children who find themselves in unhealthy dating relationships are not aware they are being abused because their parents may have had the same abusive tendencies and they are simply modeling such behavior, according to April Jones, Family Advocacy outreach manager.

"When you're born, you're not an abuser," said Jones. "You're a blank slate, and whatever you see or whatever you observe, whatever happens in your home environment, your school environment or what you see on television, games or media, it's going to be implanted in your head unless you ask questions and get the right answers."

If parents display love and respect in the home and show their children how to treat each other with acts of kindness, love and understanding, Jones said they could not only prevent teen dating violence, but there would be less likelihood of domestic violence developing in the future.

To report abuse within the military family on or off base, call Family Advocacy at 334-953-5430/5055, security forces at 334-953-7222, command post at 334-953-7474, Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647, the 24/7 victim advocate at 523-9174, or call 911.