Your daughter's boyfriend has given her a new iPhone so he can reach her wherever she is. They're fiercely attached and, she says, madly in love.
But half the time they're on the phone, she seems more distraught than happy, and often you've heard her apologizing repeatedly for what seem like silly offenses. Last night, you actually heard her begging him for forgiveness. Today, she won't talk about it.
Your teenaged son doesn't seem all that happy about his new romance. At one point, he tells you he's going to break up with her, but then it doesn't happen. All he says about it is, "I guess I better not. I don't want to make her mad." He seems too willing to do what she wants, too resigned to sticking it out, and once after a date with her, he came home with a bruised cheek and a cut at the corner of his eye, as if he'd been struck.
Both of these youth are likely experiencing dating violence, a phenomenon that impacts far too many adolescents, sometimes with devastating results. Unfortunately, young victims of violence often stay in relationships and don't seek help, while adults are often dismissive of the intensity of young love and overlook the warning signs."Our culture tells young people that romantic love is all-important. However, we often neglect to teach young people what's healthy and what isn't in romance," says Jacquie Poetker, Southern Alberta Coordinator for RespectED, the Canadian Red Cross service that provides prevention education to stop the cycle of violence and abuse affecting youth.
Poetker says recent studies suggest as many as 25% of teens will experience violence in a dating relationship before they reach adulthood. Even among young teens, relationships are affected by physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Youth may stay in a violent relationship, Poetker says, because they mistakenly think possessiveness, jealousy and rage are signs of devotion. Or they may be afraid to leave. "When one person goes to end the relationship, their boyfriend or girlfriend may get physical, or may become threatening." The abuser may threaten to hurt their partner, or to kill themselves, or to engage in reprisals, damage to reputation, and harassment after a break-up. For some, unhealthy relationships in adolescence can result in serious injury or even death, or will establish a lifelong pattern of accepting violence."
As a society, we have to help young people develop healthier lifelong relationship patterns," says Poetker. "We can't just teach them about passion, romance and sex. We have to teach them about protecting themselves and respecting others."
For more information on workshops dealing with youth relationship violence, child abuse, harassment prevention, and the prevention of abuse, neglect and harassment in support, please contact RespectED: Violence & Abuse Prevention at 541- 4441, or see full registration details redcross.ca
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