JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
You meet their friends. You monitor their internet usage. You keep an eye on their grades. But you can’t be there all the time, and for some of us, that brings a certain amount of anxiety. You know they aren’t babies anymore, but watching them grow up comes with joy, pride, and often fear. And let’s be honest, there is a lot to be afraid of. What is a parent to do? How can we truly help our children?
Of course there are many things you could be doing, but I want to suggest discussing a topic that may be rarely addressed in households: dating violence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Among high school students who dated, 21 percent of females and 10 percent of males experienced physical and/or sexual dating violence.” That is one in five females and one in ten males. Parents have an obligation, and the privilege of being an agent for change in this area of their children’s lives.
First, we need to understand what dating violence is. The CDC defines it as intimate partner abuse. It can be physical, psychological, sexual or stalking. Physical abuse is hitting, pushing, biting, punching, kicking, slapping or strangulation. It is the intentional infliction of pain on another person. It often will result in bruising or other injuries. Psychological abuse includes damaging a person’s self-worth. It usually involves name calling, shaming, bullying and isolating. Sexual abuse is any unconsented sexual touch. Stalking is a way to threaten the victim. It is behavior that includes following, constant harassment and other fear-inducing behaviors. If you notice any of these aspects with your child and in their relationship, it is important to reach out for support right away. Family Advocacy can help.
There are also many preventive measures you can take to address teen dating violence in your home. These include:
Don’t expose your child to domestic violence. If you are in a violent situation, this may impact your child’s perception on the appropriateness and normalcy of violence. Leaving a violent situation is not easy but there is an advocate on this base to help you walk through the process.
Poor self-esteem, depression and anxiety are risk factors for youth to become involved in violent relationships. Seek appropriate attention for your teen if they are struggling with self-worth or mental health issues.
Talk about Dating. Do you know what current slang is being used for dating, sex and sexual activity? Do you know what your teen knows? Do you know what their peers are doing, what they are seeing in others’ relationships? Have you asked your teen about what their expectations are in their relationships?
Help set personal boundaries. Tell your children your expectations. It is appropriate for you to explain what your expectations are for them. As a child, they still need help navigating the world. Give them that guidance. Ask your children what their personal boundaries are. Help children to understand that they can tell other people what their boundaries are and expect that those will be honored.
Give several pathways to help. Some youth may be embarrassed to tell you that they are in a violent relationship. Stay open and available to your child but also let them know that there are other avenues to explore support: a school counselor, military and family life counselor, the chaplain and Family Advocacy. Help your child identify trustworthy people who can help in times of crisis. Teens can receive anonymous support through the Love is Respect Organization by texting “loveis” to 22522.
Discuss in clear terms what behaviors are inappropriate in a relationship. These conversations can happen naturally when watching TV or movies with teen dating themes, listening to music or witnessing peer relationships and can help teens identify healthy and unhealthy relationships.
In February, Family Advocacy is offering several activities to help you work with your teens on this issue. These include:
Cinema, Spaghetti and Speak: A free movie night Feb. 15 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Dix Youth Center. Throughout the movie, we will stop and have discussions related to relationships as it relates to the movie. This evening is specifically designed to give you a chance to talk with your children.
Active Parenting of Teens: In this four session seminar, we can offer some words of wisdom about working with your teenager more successfully. The seminar will be held Feb. 5, 6, 7 and 8 from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the IDS Conference Room, located at the McGuire Fitness Center behind the Fitness Assessment Cell.
Teens should be able to date, have fun and socialize. Let’s help them do it safely. For more information on Family Advocacy programs, please call (609)754-9680.