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Communities that care: Teen dating violence can be prevented

Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. Teens often think some behaviors, like teasing and name calling, are a “normal” part of a relationship. However, these behaviors can become abusive and develop into more serious forms of violence. What actually constitutes dating violence?

Dating violence is defined as physical, sexual, psychological or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner.

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Is your teen in a healthy dating relationship? Does your teen understand what constitutes a healthy relationship? Young adult and teen dating violence affects youth in every community across the nation. Statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency found that 1 in 3 girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner — a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.

How can you help change this social norm? Talk with your teen about healthy relationships — it’s never too early to start the conversation. Ideally it’s best to begin talking about healthy dating before your child starts to date. Conversation starters include, “How do you want to be treated?” and “How do you want to feel about yourself when you are with your partner?” Help your teen develop relationship problem-solving skills by thinking about healthy relationships and what he or she would do if a friend’s partner was not treating her right or a friend yelled at her partner or put her down frequently. Be sure to respect and listen to your teen’s answers, even if you don’t agree. Together you can explore other options and opinions.

If you are worried about your teen, talk with her or him. A helpful tip is to write down why you are worried and calmly share with your teen what does not seem right to you. Most importantly, if you believe your teen is in danger, reach out for help. Nationally, the Teen Dating Violence Abuse Hotline is 866-331-9474. In Centre County, call the Women’s Resource Center hotline, 877-234-5050.

Teen dating violence can be prevented, especially when teens are empowered through family, friends and role models. For more information, visit www.loveisrespect.org, www.cdc.gov and www.victimsofcrime.org.

For more information about dating violence, contact the Centre County Women’s Resource Center at 234-5050 or attend the Straight Talk session from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Mount Nittany Middle School.

Jody Kosack Althouse is the former director of Outreach and Education at the CCWRC. She can be reached at althouj@juniata.edu or 641-3077.

IF YOU GO

What: Straight Talk: Teen Dating Violence

When: 7-8:30 p.m. Feb. 16

Where: Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College

Info: www.scasd.org/straighttalk

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