Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
Supports teens concerned about unhealthy relationships

Current prEvents – February/March, 2020 – The Times Argus


The bitter cold of February is sinking in, and what better way is there to weather the winter than with the warmth of a romantic relationship?

While our thermometers display heartbreakingly low numbers, Valentine’s Day brought us heartwarming messages highlighting the importance of love and affection. Fittingly, February is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, known online as #TDVAM. Youngsters who are just beginning to explore the romantic world benefit tremendously from education regarding healthy relationships, peer and family support, and resources for helping them to make changes if they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship.

Teen dating violence is more common than one might imagine. This can mean unwanted sexual contact, emotional abuse, and/or physical violence. According to the results from the 2019 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), three out of every ten Vermont students who have dated reported emotional abuse in a relationship. YRBS data also shows an alarming trend that there has been an increase in physical dating violence from 2017 to 2019. Data shows that female high school students in Vermont are much more likely than males to have gone out with someone who tried to control or hurt them emotionally and/or physically. The numbers are similar across grade levels nine through twelve. Another concern is that LGBT students are more than twice as likely, compared to heterosexual students, to have dated someone who physically hurt them. According to a 2011 College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll, one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults.

Why is this happening? There isn’t a simple answer to that question. Teens who lack a sense of belonging and don’t have supportive role models may be more prone to experiencing dating violence because they don’t have guidelines for what healthy relationships of respect and equality look like. When power and control are present, one may become overly dependent on their partner and feel threatened if they leave.

Additionally, substance use may play a role in dating violence, as consumption of alcohol or other impairing substances makes it more difficult for an individual to self-advocate if they’re being mistreated and can reduce the inhibitions of potential perpetrators of violence.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Kelly Arbor, Testing and Education Manager at Vermont CARES, to discuss how youth and adults can prevent teen dating violence and foster healthy relationships. Arbor pointed out to me, “Peer pressure is only viewed as a negative thing; why don’t we look at it as a positive thing, too? I could pressure you to eat a carrot instead of a Charleston chew.” Arbor added that teens tend to go two places when they’re seeking out information: 1) their friends, and 2) the internet. Teens have a great deal of power when it comes to being a resource for their friends. Reading about dating violence and healthy relationships, sharing insights with peers, and being a resource for other teens who may be struggling are all powerful ways to make a positive difference.

One excellent resource for teens is Love Is Respect (LIR), an organization dedicated to educating and empowering young people to end abusive relationships. LIR was launched as an offshoot of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and they’re a 24/7 resource for teens experiencing dating violence or abuse or seeking more information about healthy relationships. Teens can access help and learning materials through their website, loveisrespect.org. LIR’s 2020 Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month theme is #1Thing, which encourages teens to learn at least one new thing about dating violence and pass that information on to their friends. A free downloadable action guide for teens is also available through loveisrespect.org, which includes facts about dating violence, the various ways it can show up (digitally, emotionally, financially, etc.) and tips for supporting others and caring for oneself.

What can parents, teachers, and other involved adults do to prevent teen dating violence? By opening up to having conversations with youth about dating and relationships, adults can become a source of information and emotional support for teens who are learning not only how to make wise choices and protect themselves, but also how to build meaningful, satisfying relationships. Don’t feel comfortable talking with your teen about romantic relationships, dating violence, or substance use? You can simultaneously respect your own boundaries and the needs of your teen by connecting your child with outside resources where they can learn about warning signs and how to access the information they’re seeking.

Dignity, compassion, and respect are the core tenets of any healthy relationship. Modeling these behaviors in every interaction is one of countless ways to inch closer to a future that is free from dating violence.
Want to learn more? Circle, Washington County’s domestic violence agency, is hosting a Community Empowerment Workshop on Wednesday, March 11, from 6-8pm at Downstreet Housing & Community Development in Barre, VT. This event is free and open to the public. For more information regarding the event, email info@circlevt.org.

Amelia Sherman is the Youth Resiliency Educator with Central Vermont New Directions Coalition and a freelance writer located in Montpelier.

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