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Raise awareness about healthy relationships

YWCA Our Voice

February was designated Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, or TDVAM for short, in 2013 by Presidential Proclamation and has since brought teens and other community members together to raise awareness over the important topic.

According to loveisrespect.org, the valuable resource to preventing dating violence, one in three teenagers in the United States will experience some form of physical, sexual, verbal/emotional, financial or digital abuse by someone they are romantically involved with. Often, this leads victims to a lifetime struggle of substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.

More than half of women, 69.5 percent, and men, 53.6 percent, who have been physically or sexually abused, or stalked by a dating partner, first experienced abuse between the ages of 11 and 24.

If you have a relationship with teenagers, make sure they know what a healthy relationship looks like. If you’re not a parent, you can encourage parents to talk to their teens about healthy relationships if you’re not comfortable with it yourself.

Parents: Sit down and talk with your kids. They may not want to listen, and you may not want to talk about abuse with them, but they need to know that it can happen to anyone.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or PCADV, created an app that is meant to specifically help parents inform their teenagers of healthy relationships. Called “Raising Respect” and available on the App Store and Google Play for Android, this app contains short articles and tips on how to approach sensitive topics with your teenagers.

In Pennsylvania, the state law encourages schools to include a teen dating violence education in their curriculum, but it is not required. Teachers: Even though this is the case, don’t be afraid to take a few minutes of your class time to inform your students of teen dating violence. Talk to supervisors as well to see if you can get a speaker in to talk about the issue, or just share flyers around the school to make the information available to students.

We don’t have to rely on parents to talk to their teens, though. There is another approach that can be taken. Every year, there is a theme that comes with this awareness month, and this year, the theme for TDVAM is #1Thing. All it takes is a teen learning one thing about teen dating violence and sharing the information with a friend. The whole point of #1Thing is to help build healthy relationships and stop dating abuse before it starts.

We need to make sure teens know it’s okay to speak out on issues like this. They aren’t always comfortable talking to adults but if we can encourage them to share facts with their friends and help them see what a healthy relationship looks like, we can make a difference with current and future teen relationships.

Teaching young people about healthy relationships and ways to avoid physical dating violence can reduce physical and sexual dating violence by 60 percent. Working together, we can decrease the amount of violence in the world.

If you would like more information, call our confidential, 24/7 hotline at 1-800-326-8483.

— Kern is the communications and marketing coordinator at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St. Her column is published in the Lifestyle section. If you are experiencing domestic abuse or sexual assault, Wise Options can help 24/7 with a confidential hotline at 800-326-8483.

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