Teen dating violence is a very real threat|
Posted 2/23/2012 Updated 2/23/2012
by Chris McCann
JBER Public Affairs
2/23/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- We would like to think that teens - whether they're young Soldiers or Airmen under our care, or our children - are having healthy dating relationships, respecting their partners and being treated respectfully.
Unfortunately, one in four teenagers will experience violence in a dating relationship between the ages of 12 and 21, according to breakthesilenceonviolence.com.
Women between 16 and 24 have the highest per capita rate of abuse, according to a Bureau of Justice study, but young men also suffer.
"Teens are so impressionable," said Diann Richardson, an outreach manager with the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson family advocacy program. "When I worked at a middle school, the trend was that parents were hands-off. The students had ultimate freedom to make all the choices."
In a situation where there is peer pressure and no solid communication with parents, that can be dangerous.
"If we didn't get healthy relationships modeled for us, where do we get them?" Richardson said. "We used to have The Cosby Show and things like that - but not anymore, really.
Even broaching the subject can be difficult.
"It's uncomfortable for people," said Verna Loosli, also a FAP outreach manager. "We know it goes on in marriage, but it's more prevalent among teens than we think."
Dating abuse doesn't have to be violent, Richardson pointed out.
"People think about assault, but really it's a pattern of control," she said. Multiple text messages checking up on a partner, extreme jealousy, Facebook "stalking," or demanding email or social media passwords are all common. And while teens often dedicate a lot of time to relationships, becoming isolated from friends and family is a warning sign.
Worse, popular culture seems to condone such abusive tactics.
"If you listen to pop songs, the lyrics can be pretty scary," said Richardson. "Even country songs and commercials seem to condone it."
Singer Rihanna was a notable victim of violence, allegedly at the hands of fellow singer Chris Brown - and that acceptance can be problematic.
"Teen violence is a continuum," said Loosli. "If your boyfriend is texting, asking what you're doing, or saying 'I told you not to hang out with him,' it can escalate to pushing or slapping, becoming physically violent. It's a slippery slope, and if you approve it, it escalates."
While most girls have plucked flower petals and said "he loves me, he loves me not," Richardson said, no one says "he respects me" - and buying into the idea of fairy-tale love can be dangerous, especially when it's what Richardson called the "bad boy syndrome."
Teen dating violence may be hidden because young adults are inexperienced with dating relationships, have romanticized views of love, or are pressured by peers, according to savingpromise.org, an anti-dating-violence website.
So how can you protect the teen in your care from dating violence?
Maintaining clear communication is paramount, Richardson said.
"Healthy parenting includes keeping open communication with your teen," Loosli said. "We're their lifeline. I would want my child to call me, even at 2 a.m., if something's wrong. These can be life-and-death issues. Think of how you would talk to an adult friend.
"You should be their parent and an authority figure, but have the respectful relationship you have with adults, too.
"Parents need to model respect," Loosli said. "We tend to act one way toward our friends, but there are different rules of engagement with kids. But it starts with respect - when you treat them respectfully, they grow up believing they're worthy of respect."
Abusers need to be aware there are consequences for their behavior - security forces can be called on base, and the police department in off-base communities.
Even juveniles are subject to the justice system.
Richardson said that several organizations promote respect toward others and build character - as well as providing safe socialization.
"There are plenty of great, healthy (activities) on base," she said.