It’s no secret that I was in an abusive relationship. From the time I was 15 to 17, I had a very rough relationship with the father of my children. We weren’t married; we lived together, so technically we were “dating.” The abuse became present even before I got pregnant, before we had been intimate. I was only 13 and I didn’t recognize the warning signs because no one had told me there were other types of dating violence.
Looking back at my life now, I realize the importance and influence schools and parents have on teens. To some people it sounds silly to celebrate “Teen Dating Violence Awareness.” Why promote something that is so contradictory to what February is all about…that little thing called love. As an adult, a young mother, and a parent to a “tween” I am happy there is emphasis on this rather delicate topic. It is incredibly difficult to imagine that our kids at experiencing any kind of abuse in their relationships. How can you begin a conversation with your child about the dangers or abuse or violence when the illusion of growing up is dreaming that you’ll find prince charming? Teen dating violence is real, and we must talk about and educate both our boys and girls what respect is all about.
I never spoke about the abuse because I was too scared to be judged. I understood there was something wrong, but I didn’t value me getting any help with having to listen to people tell me this was my fault. It would always somehow spiral to:
• You’re too young to have a boyfriend
• You must have done something to be treated this way
• You don’t know much about life or love
It’s safe to say that dating is inevitable. It’s healthy; it’s something natural that our children will experience. Just as we educate them on being safe in the streets, on respect for their peers and elders, and respect to themselves, we must educate them on the importance of respect in their own relationships. It’s time the issue of teen dating violence takes a priority and that schools and families open up on the resources available for teens. It is imperative that they understand the real meaning of abuse and that it can present itself in various forms. Most importantly, it’s important to help our professionals understand that the main reason kids aren’t speaking out is simply because we might not be listening.
To all youth development professionals, teachers, counselors, workers, I urge you to evaluate and share the information with your teens. To the young parents reading this today, remember you deserve to be in a respectful and healthy relationship. Enjoy Valentine’s Day with the person you cherish, but don’t forget that you must love (and respect) yourself too in order to build a lifetime of healthy and happy relationships.