Today’s typical teen faces a mountain of obstacles that I don’t think any other generation has ever faced. These days, teen violence is at near epidemic proportions and dating abuse has reached extraordinary heights. I’m sickened by the statistics and maybe what’s most scary for me is that these relationships are evolving with dynamics most teens have never known. Many teen girls who are abused by their boyfriends have never been exposed to abuse on any level. They’ve never seen their parents abuse one another and they were raised in traditional loving homes, yet they find themselves accepting behaviors from their boyfriends that would terrify their parents. It doesn’t always occur to parents that their teens are being abused or are abusing the ones they date. We just always assume we raise our kids right and “right” includes remaining dignified, respectful and an unwillingness to hurt another. That’s not always so.
February is Teen Dating Violence Month. There’s a new campaign, Let Your Heart Rule, that was founded to bring this social problem to the forefront. Verizon and Break the Cycle have partnered in an effort to encourage teens and parents to take a stand against teen violence. There’s a reason I’m so drawn to this campaign, but more on that later. Here are the top ten warning signs that your teen might be involved in an abusive relationship, either as a victim or an abuser:
- Name calling and insults
- Demanding access to text messages and voice mails
- Excessive texting
- Explosive tempers
- Violent mood swings
- Physical abuse
- Telling or being told what to do and what not to do
- Blaming the victim for actions that the abuser takes (“You made me do it”)
- Insecurity and extreme jealousy
This campaign is so important – for teens, educators and certainly parents. When we’re 16 or 17 and madly in love, we think we change the world. And if we can change the world, we can certainly change one person. With time, wisdom and maturity, we realize just how unrealistic that logic is. Unfortunately, that can sometimes come too late.
I married when I was twenty. I knew nothing; what twenty year old does, right? I’d never been exposed to violence on any level, I didn’t know what drugs looked like and I certainly couldn’t look at someone and know they were taking drugs (and still can’t). The marriage ended within two years, but when I left, I left with a beautiful son who was three weeks old. Three weeks old. All I knew was that there had to be something better for him. I also left with too many scars, partial hearing loss and an inability to have more children. Again, it was that mentality that I was going to change the world and one soul couldn’t be that difficult. My life is incredible now and has been for two decades (that three week old son is now an amazing and brilliant 20 year old). But it changed me. The hardest part was hindsight; recognizing how hard it was for those who loved me but who were helpless for those few years (we dated for close to a year before we got married). All I know is I was raised in a solid and loving home and yet I still fell for someone who was so far removed from what I knew. So yes, this campaign is so important for families.
Every high school in the nation should strongly consider taking part. Parents should most certainly take part and every teen who’s ever been called fat, a whore, trash, bitch, worthless or any other devastating name should know just because it comes from someone she loves, it’s no different than her worst enemy saying those things. In fact, they’re one in the same.
For more information, visit the Let Your Heart Rule website.