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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Teach your teen to stand up to dating violence

by Chris McCann
JBER Public Affairs


2/6/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Mr. Gavin, the history teacher, stands in the hall, watching the students rifling through their lockers or hurrying to class.

Tom's girlfriend, Mary, grabs Tom's smartphone out of his hand.

"Hey, give that back," he argues. The teacher observes silently as Mary studies the phone, scrolling through things, then she holds it up to his face.

"Who's Becky? Becky Williams?"

"I just had to text her for the lab notes!"

Mary throws the phone and it hits Tom in the shoulder, then falls to the floor. Tom picks it up as she stomps away, and puts it in the locker, then heads to class.

"Hey, Tom," the history teacher said. "Does she do that a lot?"

Tom shrugs. "It's no big deal."

"That doesn't seem like a very healthy relationship."

"Eh, it was just a phone. Everybody does that sometimes."

It's rather abusive, Gavin thinks. But he's seen this kind of behavior before; it really seems to be something kids accept.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, and unfortunately, these kinds of behaviors are, in fact, often not seen as a "big deal" at all - but the fact is, they are abusive.

A 2012 study by RTI International surveyed 1,430 7th grade students. Thirty-seven percent reported being a victim of physical dating violence.

Nearly three quarters of students reported talking to their parents about dating and dating violence. That communication is considered a protective factor.

Family Advocacy Outreach Manager Jennifer Frysz cited a recent survey in which teens rated behaviors.

"Many teens thought hitting was OK," she said. "Injury-causing was bad, but choking, taking someone's phone - those are OK. They're not seeing violence the same way as adults. ... we've got to change that view, and explain the whys of it."
Any form of threat is abuse, Frysz said. Some, though not all, is illegal. For example, taking someone's phone is a crime in Alaska.

"It's a big deal," Frysz said. "This is the next generation of adults, and they look to adults for examples of interactions - in marriage, about stressors. It's important to set examples. And if they are exposed to violence in the home, there's probably inadequate mentoring in stress management."

Threats via social media, or cyberbullying, are also a rising trend, and can be more insidious because the child feels unable to escape the bullying even at home. Worse, anything online can be propagated almost instantly and dog a person for years.

To help teens, the Family Advocacy team will be visiting schools from Feb. 12 through 14 providing information about dating, social media pitfalls, and healthy relationships. There is also a "Teen Talk" class being offered.

The most critical step in stopping violence is to get to the source of the problem, she said. Teens with a positive self-image and who take responsibility are less likely to be victimized.

Children and teens model what theyre shown. And despite the perception of teens as dismissive, parents are the most influential models of all.

That doesn't let others off the hook.

"The whole community has to be an example," said Frysz, a licensed social worker and counselor. "There's a perception of teens as lazy and disrespectful - but they have a lot of stressors too. School is tough. If a teen has a bad attitude, ask what's wrong.

"Don't think the worst of them; the best thing to do is be there for them. They're 'challenging' because they're becoming independent, but they still need us. You have to look past the attitude and remember that."

Another tactic is to make your teens part of the parenting process. Frysz suggested encouraging them to cook or do chores. For curfews, which can be a contentious issue, she had another idea.

"Ask your teen 'What time do you think you should be in?' If their idea isn't reasonable, remind them that it's a school night. This forces their thought processes.

"Don't just say no," Frysz said. "Tell them why, and why it's important to be cognizant." Respecting their input recognizes their growing maturity while still offering a guiding hand.

Helping your teen establish healthy boundaries is important. If you serve others, while making time for yourself and your family, it sets a good example.

Military personnel and veterans can also extrapolate ways to teach their teens.

Helping a teen understand time management helps reduce their anxieties and fears, Frysz said. For example, set times to do homework, for meals, and for bed can create a soothing routine. Those things are often almost hard-wired into Soldiers and Airmen.

Military units have team-building events like picnics and games to build cohesion; families can do the same.

Showing gratitude and offering praise to children is also important. In the military, awards and decorations can motivate people and enhance morale; in parenting, affection and praise accomplish this just as well.

"Self-esteem is very much a protective factor," Frysz said. "Tell them good things. Their perceptions and identities are developing, so challenge inaccurate or negative ideas."

And just as sleep is critical for troops to accomplish the mission, sleep is important to children and teens, whose brains are developing rapidly.

If parents are approachable, kids will talk, Frysz said. Listen to the whole story instead of jumping to conclusions, and let them know you're there to help, not to judge. Let them know you'll help provide safety measures if they feel it's necessary.

"All these things build up, and the teens won't allow himself to be abused," she said.

Pressure to have sex is abusive as well, and can have far-reaching consequences; Alaska has high rates of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea, especially among youth - who are statistically more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.

As for teens who feel they may be in an abusive relationship, Frysz said to listen to gut feelings.

"I'm a big proponent of listening to that inner voice," she said. "Yes, you're struggling for independence, but consider the risks if there are red lights flashing."

Telling a safe adult is always a good bet. If you're scared about what to do, there are many helping agencies available through JBER or off the installation.

"If you're thinking something's not normal, others probably think that too," Frysz said. "Don't hold it in; don't let fear restrain you. Tell someone and get help safely."

Some red flags of an abusive relationship include badmouthing exes, controlling behaviors such as reading your email or text messages, attempting to separate you from friends or family, or encouraging you to break rules.

If you think you need assistance, talk to parents or a trusted adult. You can also speak to a doctor, chaplain or clergy person, or a counselor.

To reach Family Advocacy, call 384-2999.

The website loveisrespect.org offers quizzes to help see if your relationship is healthy; they also provide anonymous help services. The Centers for Disease Control website, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html offers statistics and ways to get help, as well as information for parents who suspect their teen may be at risk.

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