Schools focus on dating violence awareness

Published 2:08 am Friday, February 15, 2019

According to Straughn High School counselor Stephanie Bryan and Red Level High School counselor Melissa Nall, teenage domestic violence may be more prevalent than what most people think.

“Based on all of the research that I have been hearing this month, this is a lot more prevalent than we think it is,” Bryan said. “On a day to day basis, do I have any knowledge of it? Not really. But I have been watching a lot about it this month and it is definitely out there.”

Congress declared the month of February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in 2010. Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is a national effort to raise awareness, to start the conversation, to break the cycle and highlight where there is help.

Bryan said that most parents aren’t aware of the issue.

“I really don’t think parents know this is happening,” Bryan said. “That is based on everything that I am reading. I just don’t think parents know what warning signs to look for.”

About 1.5 million high school students in the United States experience physical abuse from someone they’re dating, according to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project. A group called “Love is Respect” reports that 1 in 3 teenagers in the U.S. will experience either physical, sexual or emotional abuse by the other person in their romantic relationship.

Bryan said that it is especially hard for parents to know what to look for if they suspect someone is in an abusive relationship.

“One article says that we might be looking for a few bruises or something like that,” Bryan said. “But it was also talking about things like a person in a relationship being possessive. I think the first thing parents should do is talk to their children, of course, and then seek professional counseling if it gets to be a problem.”

Bryan said that it is hard for counselors to know if  students are in abusive relationships.

“Normally, if a kid is going through something more than just normal teenage stuff, someone is going to have noticed a change in their behavior,” Bryan said. “You’re probably going to have already heard that this child is acting differently. If they do come in to my office, then I can approach them from that perspective by saying, ‘Hey, I hear you’ve been acting different.’ Then you can see if you can talk to them about what is going on in their lives. I am definitely looking for the obvious signs like bruises and such, but based on the research, I don’t think you’re going to see that.

“You can also look academically,” she said. “If you have a student who performs at a higher level and they are plummeting, I push a little harder to find out why they are plummeting. What signs are we seeing that are different from this child’s usual life?”

Bryan said that when it comes to teenage domestic violence, most abuse is emotional.

“It goes back to if their significant other is controlling or possessive,” Bryan said. “If they are using phrases like, ‘If you’re my girlfriend, then you should be doing this,’ or ‘If you really loved me then,’ that is definitely emotional abuse.”

RLHS decided to combine their Random Acts of Kindness week with Teenage Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“This year we decided to do something a little different with our Random Acts of Kindness Week,” Nall said. “Officer Bishop, our resource officer, came up to me and he wanted to implement this teen dating during the week. We thought that it would be a good way to just reach out to all of the students about being kind and how unhealthy relationships can start early and if you don’t get a handle on it, it can turn violent and last a lifetime.”

She said that teens usually think that some behaviors are normal when they are in a relationship.

“Sometimes they just don’t know what it is like to be in a healthy relationship,” Nall said. “Then sometimes they get in an abusive relationship and they think that is just how it is supposed to be.”

Nall said that it has been a team effort at RLHS to combine the two subjects of kindness and teenage domestic violence awareness.

“Every morning we watch a dating violence scenario,” Nall said. “On Monday, we kicked off the week with District Attorney Walt Merrell talking to the boys in the school and Mona Pineda from the Bethesda House talking to the girls. Each morning during the week, we have had kindness quotes that are talked about throughout the morning and kindness challenges that they do each day. It has really been a team effort here. Our art class really went over the top with decorating and each class has participated in a dress up competition each day.”

The main thing that Nall wants to get through to the students is that they should treat each other with respect.

“We just want to promote healthy relationships,” Nall said. “Because that can have an effect on the teens emotional development. That is what we try to communicate with them, that uncomfortable emotions like anger and jealousy could turn into something else. So, we really just try to talk to them about treating each other with a mutual respect.”