October er is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month," and as this issue comes to the forefront during this time it's crucial to also recognize and bring out from behind the shadows the prevalence of teen dating violence.
Current statistics show that one in three teenagers has experienced violence in a relationship. Females ages 16 to 24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group at a rate almost triple the national average.
These are facts that should wake us all up to the reality that domestic violence begins early and prevention should be a priority. This can begin with teaching teens what a healthy relationship is and what it definitely isn't.
For parents, some warning signs that might indicate your child is in an abusive relationship include injuries she or he cannot explain or tries to cover up, a significant drop in grades, changes in behavior or clothing style, poor school attendance, isolation from loved ones, excessive amounts of phone calls, text messages or visits by the partner.
Teens in a relationship or dating should ask themselves whether they feel threatened, frightened or afraid to disagree with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Does the boyfriend or girlfriend have a bad temper, seem jealous or act possessive? Have they ever been hit, kicked or pushed? Has the boyfriend or girlfriend criticized or threatened them using verbal communication, text messaging or online?
What can a parent do if they feel their child is in an unhealthy relationship? First and foremost, keep communication open and tell them you are worried and have noticed changes. Do this in a way that the teen feels supported and validated, not embarrassed or disrespected. Help them re-connect with friends, family and activities they enjoy. Let them know this treatment is unacceptable in a relationship. Understand that the relationship may take time to end, but at the same time maintain their safety if it appears to be compromised. Provide encouragement and support when it is over.
It is important to talk with your teenager about healthy relationships before they start dating and seek out resources to support this discussion. Local helpful resources in York include Access-York (846-5400 or 1-800-262-8444) or the Victim Assistance Center (854-3131 or 1-800-422-3204).
And to learn more about this issue, Access-York and WellSpan Health will be offering a "But I Love Them!" class designed to education parents and teens about the difference between toxic and healthy relationships on at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 17. To register, call 851-3500 or 1-800-840-5905.
-- Dianne Moore is a vol unteer for Access-York.