Teens need help from responsible adults to know the right way
Dating is a time for romance, but occasionally things go very wrong. Teen dating violence is a culmination of relationships likely doomed from the start.
Anusha, a representative from Yuvaa, has seen the results of such attacks firsthand. She talked with anti-violence activist Cathy Carmody during a Twitter SayftyChat about teen dating violence and how to stop it.
Yuvaa is India’s first Gen Z-driven media and insights organization. Representatives listen to the stories of young India and create purpose-driven solutions to make meaningful content online and start meaningful conversations offline.
One of the best ways to avoid bad relationships is to know what healthy ones look like.
“I’ve observed real-life relationship examples bearing distinct power struggles, their consequences on the individuals and society and learning about gender inequality and inequity over time,” Anusha said. “That has enabled me to curate intimate ideas of mutual love and respect in different social connections.”
Most often, teens take cues from their families.
“I grew up in a rough and tumble household with many brothers and parents who fought,” Carmody said. “Discord was my model. I didn’t learn more healthy ways to relate until adulthood, but it gave me strength, too.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that dating violence is an adverse childhood experience that affects millions of young people in the United States. Dating violence can take place in person, online or through technology.
“We’re trying to change this,” Carmody said. “We need to teach this to youth early on, to help them avoid unhealthy situations.
“Teens should not suffer in silence,” she said. “Traffickers could pick up on this and offer ‘friendship,’ leading to bad outcomes.”
Greater Risk from Inexperience
The difference between teen dating and adult dating violence is mostly a matter of degree.
“Being more vulnerable and at greater risk, violence threatens teens more gravely,” Anusha said. “When experienced so early in life, it becomes difficult for them to leave or not expect violence in relationships. It almost creates a ‘necessity’ for them to look for intimacy in toxic power dynamics.”
Not having adult responsibilities can make young people more vulnerable.
“Few teens have credit cards or financial control over their dates,” Carmody said. “It’s still about control for teens, but sometimes it’s a bit different. Maturity is a factor. Peer and parental pressure are more prominent than with adults.”
“If we teach what healthy relationships ‘feel’ like, teens will know when something is not right,” Carmody said. “They need trusting adults to go to for help.”
Anusha described what healthy boundaries look like in teen dating:
- Learning to prioritize oneself
- Understanding that some space is essential in all relationships
- Saying and accepting “No”
- Communicating honestly
- Realizing that every relationship is built by two — or more — “independent” individuals
- Love is just respect.
OK to Reach Out
“That’s not so dissimilar to adults,” Carmody said. “Teens might need more frequent help in figuring things out as they go through those early first relationships. Then we need to make it so youth feel more comfortable reaching out.
“Teens would say that adults don’t listen to them,” she said. “It’s bad enough that adults are skeptical of peers, but when adults don’t believe teens, it can be disastrous.”
Learning to say no is hard, but critical.
“Teaching consent early is necessary,” Carmody said. “We wouldn’t have as much domestic abuse if teens were taught about warning signs and healthy relationships. Boys would learn earlier, too, about what is acceptable behavior.”
The internet has to shoulder its share of the burden for influencing teen dating violence.
“Social media can bestow plentiful spaces for violence,” Anusha said. “It can be employed to harm and diminish individuals — usually young girls — which often go unaddressed for the fear of society, lack of support and legal inaccessibility. It can empower abusers more than its victims.”
Carmody added that, based on research, boys start looking at digital porn around age 11.
“They see ‘acceptable’ violence in relationships early on,” she said. “Look at movies, advertisements, Super Bowl halftime shows and so on. Expectations about sex and relationships are everywhere. Much discussion is needed by parents, family and close adults to distinguish real from fantasy.”
Responsible for Choices
One of the most delicate questions is how to approach someone suffering from teen dating violence.
“Teens hate being judged,” Carmody said. “They want to be listened to but want to make their own choices, even if they aren’t great ones. We need to be there to pick ‘em up when heartbroken.
“Sometimes youth want people other than parents to talk with,” she said. “So, offer them other capable adults and organizations.”
Violence at any level is bad, amplified by youthful inexperience.
“Youth dating violence is in many ways different than for adults,” Carmody said. “There is less financial abuse, no children to argue over and being dependent financially on parents. Solutions need to be sensitive to those as well.”
She gave guidelines for handling survivors:
- Believe them.
- Tell them it’s not their fault.
- Only offer solutions if they ask.
“They may not be ready to make change, but just want someone to listen,” Carmody said. “Remember also that youth are experimenting with their sexual and gender identity. So, listen to all their issues.”
Anusha recommends a TREE approach: Trust, Resources, Empathy and Empowerment.
“Violence sufferers tend to blame their actions for the abuse faced,” she said. “It is crucial to establish trust, fathom their mindset and equip them with resources and aids they feel comfortable with to eventually empower them.:
Anusha keyed on a crucial distinction: “People underestimate the importance of ‘listening to listen’ rather than ‘listening to engage.’”
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