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
"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
Nearly three quarters of students reported talking to their parents
about dating and dating violence. That communication is considered a
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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,
offers statistics and ways to get help, as well as information for
parents who suspect their teen may be at risk.