Dear Adult Types,
You are the mothers, fathers, teachers, aunts, uncles, and roll models. You are the ones that are supposed to know what is important and what is not. The ones who our children and teenagers look to when they don’t have the answers. The ones responsible for molding our young people into responsible, kind, community-conscious adults. This letter is for you.
Did you know that 81% of parents – those individuals that brought little humans into the world – do not believe, or are unaware, that teen dating violence exists? Those teens are the ones you have been raising for years. They are now a bundle of hormones racing out into the world in search of a mate. You have likely coached them on bad adults, stranger danger, and bullying, but 81% of you are not acknowledging, let alone talking about, teen dating violence.
Teen dating violence affects more adolescents than any other youth violence. 1 in 3 teens report having been physically, emotionally, sexually, or verbally assaulted by their dating partner. And yet we are not talking about it.
Recently, I did a workshop for, what was supposed to be, a rather large group of teenagers. They attended an event with their teachers. The problem was, before the second half of the program even began, over half the teens and teachers left the building. As I was getting up to speak, another three rows stood up and walked out, and as I was wrapping up the program, another entire group left the room.
Were they bored or bothered by what I had to say? I actually don’t think so. I believe the real reason was that lunch was about to be served and then busses were coming. All those teens were still in the courtyard, waiting in line for lunch, when I was done. Now, I know I’m not educator of the year, but don’t you think that their time might have been better spent learning about something that could fundamentally destroy 1 in 3 of their lives?
I thought so, but apparently their teachers did not. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Although there are numerous groups trying to raise awareness about teen dating violence, it is gaining momentum about a step behind domestic violence. It is not a topic we like to talk about as a society. How can we protect our children when we are uncomfortable or downplaying the issues?
We live in a society where we are blessed with women’s rights and laws that protect all individuals from experiencing harm from others. The problem, as I see it, lies with us. We don’t want to talk about these issues. Domestic violence, rape, child porn, sex trafficking, mental health, and many others are taboo topics for many. And until we are talking about it, and demand change in our society, there are not enough laws in the world to stop it.
But, sadly, I really think it comes down to our culture. We are supposed to be tough and if bad things happen to us, things that “we can control,” then it’s our fault. You see, if you are diagnosed with cancer, or another disease, that is out of your control. If you lose your job, the stock market crashes, or your home burns down, that is out of your control. But, if you are depressed, have anxiety, find yourself in an abusive relationship, or get raped…well, you should have done something to prevent it.
Reality check! This is not the case. We are called, as humans, to be kind to one another. One person’s misfortune does not necessarily outway another’s. And, I believe it is our responsibility to be aware and support all those who are struggling by our side. Hiding from the hurt that humans inflict on other humans will not make it go away. Pretending it doesn’t happen will not keep your 15 year old from date-rape or your 18 year old from staying with an abusive partner.
When you realize that there are 14 year olds who stalk their crush, hold knives to their throat, and threaten to kill their partner and their family if they leave, then you might find the strength to educated yourself on teen dating violence. When you learn that your son is being manipulated into sex when he isn’t ready, or that your daughter was pressured into oral sex in the middle-school restroom, perhaps then you will talk to your teens about consent and self-worth. When you learn about the young lives that were cut short by an abusive partner, perhaps then you will light a candle. When your life-long friend commits suicide because of a 20-year abusive relationship that could have been avoided, maybe then you will speak up, march, and reach out to the hurting.
But I hope it does not come to that. Educate yourself now, talk to your children, be aware of the realities, and make teen dating violence awareness a priority. It is very real and it should fall much higher on the spectrum than lunch. We are the adults. It is up to us to reach out and guide those who will be the adults of the future.
Be the Change!