February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Teen dating violence in Indian Country is an issue every one of us should be talking about. It is up to parents, school employees and other trusted adults to educate our young people about what is a healthy relationship and what is not healthy. Violence is very subtle in relationships.

Teen dating violence is also known as intimate partner violence or intimate relationship violence and is a serious problem in this country. Teen Dating Violence affects about 10% of all teenagers between the age of 12 to 18. It includes stalking, harassment, as well as physical or sexual abuse.

In February 2023, I listened to young people from California talk about teen violence. They spoke on issues which affect all young people across the country, including Indigenous teens.

Ana Campos spoke about her experience as a 17-year-old survivor of intimate partnership violence. She works with Laura’s House, a domestic violence shelter in Orange County, California. She said part of the reason why so much domestic violence happens in teens is because they can’t recognize red flags in the relationship.

Campos believes providing education at school teaching the difference between romantic relationship red flags versus green flags is crucial in teenagers lives. When students aren’t taught about what dating violence really is, they will grow up to be adults who perpetuate the cycle of abuse that should have stopped when they were young.

For example, if there were no healthy relationships to witness firsthand as children, they will learn to behave in the same way as their parents did or still do. When children grow up in violent homes, they will likely have the same behavior as adults.

Ana Campos

“People don’t know what teen violence is. A lot of people think it is just physical but it’s mental, psychological and so many other ways,” Campos stated.

For example, “young men do think women and young girls are not as good as men. I think there definitely is this superiority that they feel in themselves and that isn’t cool,” Campos said. “Society also pressures males to be the masculine one or to have super big egos.”

Teen males might feel pressured “to be the dominant one and for people to assert that dominance they could think of showing that through violence. Perhaps that’s why domestic violence is happening with youth,” Campos concluded.

Listen to other young people talk about teen dating violence in this video.

Digital dating abuse getting you down? In this video we see how teens can stand up for healthy relationships by becoming part of That’s Not Cool! For more information, or to become an ambassador, visit us at www.thatsnotcool.com

As Indigenous people and extended family members, we are responsible to model healthy relationships to our young people. We are responsible to create the change for our young people. However, many of our people did not grow up witnessing any healthy relationships within our extended family. Violence is happening in homes right now.

Historical trauma affects most of us in Indian Country. This trauma tends to manifest in our contemporary lives as dysfunction and at-risk behavior. Alcohol and drug use aggravates many underlying issues passed down to us through inter generational trauma.

Our children need healthy relationships in their lives to know how to behave. When our children aren’t exposed to any healthy relationships, they won’t have any examples to draw from to choose how to act. If you live with children, please know you are a role model. Be conscious of your behavior.

Maya Henry also spoke for the youth from Peace Over Violence, a sexual and domestic violence, intimate partner stalking, child abuse and youth violence prevention center in Los Angeles, California. Maya is 16 years old.

Maya Henry

“If you never see examples of healthy, non-abuse love in textbooks, in sex ed class, on TV, in your favorite novel, and you are also already perpetually dealing with trauma that often comes from being in a disenfranchised community, like LGBTQ it just creates a horrible environment where it is hard to understand what constitutes a healthy versus an unhealthy relationship,” Henry said.

“Trauma can only lead to more trauma, it just exists in a never-ending cycle where nobody wins and everybody loses,” Henry continued. “And that encompasses all types of violence, gun violence, physical abuse and partner violence.”

According to the Indian Health Service (IHS), approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. American Indian and Alaska Native young women are survivors of dating violence or will experience dating violence at some point in their lives.

Many young people believe the lack of dialogue about relationships or dating leads to the lack of dialogue about problems with these relationships or teen dating violence. Parents and other trusted adults are some of the most important people in youth lives.

“Dating and intimate relationships are still something that is so sparsely discussed with youth,” stated Armaan Sharma, a sophomore from Fremont, California. He works with the Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE).

Armaan Sharma

“If parents don’t initiate conversations about dating or relationships or create a safe space for discussion, teens will (a) lack education about these topics and will have to turn to other potentially misleading sources or (b) will not be comfortable discussing these topics with parents, ever,” Sharma said.

Teen domestic violence can bring serious short-term and long-term consequences. Healthy relationships in our lives will tend to have a positive effect on our emotional development, which helps with future relationships. Abusive relationships do the opposite. Victims of dating violence are more likely to have suicidal thoughts, antisocial behaviors, depression and anxiety, as well as engaging in unhealthy choices such as alcohol and drug use.

“Parents, learn to have a conversation with your children from a place of love and acceptance, as opposed to shame and blame. Because once you talk to a child and you are shaming them and blaming them – and not just a child but anyone – people shut down,” stated Kandee Lewis, CEO of Positive Results Center and Founder of Black Women Leaders of Los Angeles.

“We’re not going to have any kind of conversation if you are shaming and blaming me,” Lewis said. “And that’s what happens a lot of times in abusive relationships – they are shaming and blaming and making the person who is being abused feel like it is their fault, when it is never their fault.”

“We didn’t just walk through just one pandemic, we’ve walked through five pandemics – the pandemic of COVID, the pandemic of sexual assault, the pandemic of domestic violence, the pandemic of economic disparity and housing insecurity. Now parents must work two or three or four jobs and our children don’t have the same opportunity to speak with a trusted adult,” Lewis said. “If you don’t take the time to talk to your child, someone else will. And that other person may not have their best interests at heart, because that other person might be the abuser.”

If you or someone you know is involved in an abusive relationship of any kind, immediate and confidential support is available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s project focused on supporting young people by visiting loveisrespect.org, calling 1-866-331-9474 or texting “LOVEIS” to 22522.

Published by Vi Waln


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