Friday, August 30, 2013

Where has the summer gone?

Where has the summer gone?  Suddenly, it’s the end of August, students are headed back to school, and so am I.  My life is about to get very busy, because I spend much of the school year in high school and junior high classrooms, sharing information about relationships, Dove, and its services.  It’s my favorite time of year!  As Dove’s Youth Services Specialist, I work in the agency’s Domestic Violence Program, providing crisis and supportive services and advocacy for adult and child clients.  Each domestic violence staff member has an area of specialty and mine is providing teen dating abuse prevention education, advocacy, and support for teens and their families. 

Research indicates that for 1 in 5 teen girls, the most memorable event of her high school years will be abuse by a dating partner.  Although boys suffer less physical abuse, both teen boys and girls endure emotional and psychological abuse from dating partners. There are a number of factors that put teens at high risk for abuse in dating relationships.  The teen years mark the beginning of serious adult dating relationships.  During this time, teens are going through the separation process with their parents as they transition into adulthood.  As a result, many teens confide more in friends than adults, and are much less likely to turn to their parents or other adults for information or help.   Add peer pressure and misinformation to the mix, and it leaves teens vulnerable to dangerous relationship beliefs and practices.  Most teens have little knowledge of their rights or of helping services available to them and teens under 18 have limited access to legal and social services without help from an adult.  As a result, many teens (both male and female) suffer in silence due to abuse by a dating partner. 

When I do teen dating abuse prevention education, it is usually in high school or junior high Health class settings, sometimes in a teen group connected to a youth agency or church.  The presentations include role-plays, interactive exercises, and critical thinking activities that engage the teens in a non-threatening manner.  We cover healthy vs. abusive behaviors, warning signs of abusive partners, the pattern of relationship abuse, how and where to access help, how to help a friend in an abusive relationship, setting healthy boundaries with friends and dating partners, and safety planning.  We do lots of myth-busting, such as:  jealousy does not equal love and love does not equal abusive and controlling behavior.  We talk about teens’ rights to orders of protection and to up to five sessions of counseling without parental permission.  We discuss the reality that some teens live with abuse at home and we discuss options for seeking safety for oneself or offering it to a friend.  It’s my job to provide information, not tell teens what to do, so that they can make their own informed decisions about relationships.   If those decisions include seeking help for an abusive relationship, that’s where I am available to provide counseling for teen and parent, legal advocacy and help with orders of protection, safety planning, and support.

Dove provides prevention education in most high schools and some junior highs in DeWitt, Piatt, Macon, Moultrie, and Shelby counties.  To inquire about teen dating abuse prevention education for your school or youth group, or to seek individual teen or family services, contact me at (217) 428-6616 or call Dove’s hotline at (217) 423-2238. 

                                                                   Joyce Kirkland

                                                                   Youth Services Specialist

                                                                  Dove Domestic Violence Program


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