Parenting Matters

Not My Kids~Teen Dating Violence

It seems that every time we turn on the news or read the paper, another community is dealing with the difficult reality of teen dating violence and bullying. There is hazing on sports teams, a domestic violence homicide, a suicide attributed to bullying. But at least this isn’t happening in our community, in our schools, in our teens’ lives.
For many years, we’ve safely hidden behind this rhetoric, which has led many of us to believe a scary myth: It’s not my issue – these are not my kids. But they are our kids. In fact, Massachusetts youth are witnessing and being victimized by bullying and dating violence at scary rates. According the latest Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior survey, 1 in 5 high school students reported being the victim of bullying, and 1 in 10 reported being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Worse, approximately 2 in 3 teens report knowing friends or peers who have been physically, sexually or verbally abused by their dating partners but only 3% of teens in abusive relationships report the abuse to authority figures and 6% tell family members.

What does it look like?

While statistics focus on physical and sexual violence in relationships, dating abuse is not always physical. Abuse is a pattern of power and control, and in teen relationships emotional abuse is often prevalent. Teens experiencing abuse are usually silent about their experience. Often, teens blame themselves or normalize abusive behaviors as typical. The controlling behaviors, such as demanding passwords to email accounts, constant texting and phone calls can initially be viewed as signs that their partner is taking an interest in their lives and showing how much they care. However, these behaviors are warning signs that a relationship is controlling and could ultimately become physically dangerous.
Dating abuse takes its toll on teens. Victims are at increased risk for depression and suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, and self-injury. As teen victims become isolated from family and friends, they may begin to lose their trust in others and have lowered self-esteem.
Most teens experiencing dating violence remain silent about the issue. According to the Liz Claiborne Institute, over 60% of parents reported that dating violence is not an issue in their teen’s life. However, 90% of teens that experience physical and sexual violence in their relationships reported that their parents were unaware of it. Over 80% of teens who were abused by their partners through technology reported that their parents remained unaware.
If you suspect you’re a victim of dating abuse…
If you think that you may be in an abusive dating relationship, tell someone you trust. If you are hurt, seek medical attention, and reach out to a friend, family member, or trusted adult for support. Keep a written record of abusive incidents in a place where your partner will not have access to it. It is often difficult to remember events in detail or in chronological order when you are explaining your situation to a third party. Contact your local domestic violence agency for more information and resources in your area. Domestic violence advocates may be able to help you create a safety plan and understand your legal rights. Look up information online: Peers Against ViolencE (www.reachma.org/pavenet) and Love is Respect (loveisrespect.org) are great resources for teens with questions. Most importantly, realize you are not alone in this, and that the abuse is not your fault.

What can we do?
Know your resources

Know you can access local domestic violence agencies for support in working with the teens in your life. REACH (an acronym for Refuge Education Advocacy and CHange) offers education and advocacy services through their youth program Peers Against ViolencE (PAVE). While providing individual support to teens experiencing abuse through counseling and psycho-educational groups, REACH also offers concerned parents avenues to talk about their teens.
Encourage your teen’s school to include these issues in their health curriculum. When teens are exposed to this information at school, over two thirds report that it has helped them recognize what is acceptable behavior in a dating relationship and 75% percent report confidence in identifying whether or not a relationship is abusive. However, a mere 25% percent of teens receive these important lessons.

Talk with the teens in your life

The first step is to realize that this will not be a onetime conversation with your teen. Multiple conversations around healthy relationships are required. Over 70% of boys and 65% of girls say that their parents have not had a conversation about healthy relationships with them in the last year. Know that this conversation may be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is necessary.
For parents with teens, it is important to continue conversations about dating relationships. Be candid and honest with your teens, drawing upon personal experience to illustrate healthy/unhealthy dating scenarios. If you suspect your teen is experiencing abuse, it is important to remain nonjudgmental and supportive. Let your teen know you are concerned for their safety and identify specific unhealthy behaviors you have noticed in the relationship. Note any changes in your teen’s behavior and lifestyle. Ultimately, tell your teen that you love them and that they can come to you to talk if and when they want to.
If your teen discloses dating abuse to you, it is important to remain calm. Parents may experience a continuum of emotions when they realize their child is experiencing violence; however, it is important that the focus remain on your teen’s disclosure and feelings, not your reactions. Give teens time to talk about their experience. Reinforce that you are concerned about their safety and reassure your teen that you believe them. In the meantime, encourage your teen to record abusive events and offer to connect them with local domestic violence resources for support.
REACH Beyond Domestic Violence (781.891.0724 or reachma.org) is building healthy communities by ending domestic violence. REACH is committed to advancing the safety, healing and empowerment of those who experience domestic or relationship violence through direct services and education while promoting social justice for individuals and families of all backgrounds. REACH also operates a 24/7 hotline 800.899.4000. Colleen Armstrong is REACH Beyond Domestic Violence’s Youth Education Specialist and can be reached at colleen@reachma.org or 781.891.0724 x119

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Parenting Matters – Taking a Test to Stress Less

By Beth Baldwin, LMHC  |Yes, we have stress. Most every parent in Lexington would agree that stress is a problem for their kids. Parents also tell me they are stressed about how to provide the best foundation for their kids in what seems to them to be an increasingly competitive environment. Taking an SAT Prep course appears to be the norm now. Where does this stress come from?

Some of it is a function of the competitiveness of global economics, manufacturing and service jobs going overseas, the recession, daily reports of unemployment rates not improving, zero net new jobs created in August of this year, and scare mongering about graduating college seniors not being able to find jobs.

—Fact: Recent unemployment rates for high school graduates under age 25 who were not enrolled in school was 22.5%, compared with 9.3% for college graduates of the same age. The comparable figure at the time for the overall unemployment rate was

—Fact: Every kid I know who graduated from LHS in 2005, with or without college has a job.

We have some of the best stress available

One of the rallying cries for how destructive the competitiveness and resultant stress is for kids and teens was the recent documentary “Race to Nowhere” that was screened in Lexington last April at Cary Hall. The movie explores the many ways we create some of the stress ourselves.

According to the 2009 Lexington High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

—89% report their stress has increased since starting high school

—77% report atmosphere at LHS encourages academic competition

—74% report the atmosphere in the town of Lexington encourages academic competition

We have some of the best stress busting, too

LHS is working hard to counteract student stress. There is a terrific website called “Reducing Stress and Developing Resiliency” (http://lhs.lexingtonma.org/Stress%20and%20Resiliency/index.html). There students and parents will find great advice: recommended skills to practice, as well as information about how stress reduction and resiliency (being able to deal with stress) are being worked into the school curriculum. One of the very good pieces of resiliency advice offered as a “stress buster” on the website is “be true to yourself”.

It is hard to be true to yourself when, as an adolescent, you are in the process of formulating your identity. Erik Erikson called the psychosocial crisis “Identity vs. Role Confusion” with the main question being “Who am I and where am I going?”

How taking a test can bust stress

As a therapist, I am finding it is this “Who am I and where am I going?” that seems to have taken on a new competitiveness, making it more important than ever for kids to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to go for it. I am finding success in using a test to help clients find out some highly personal and highly relevant answers to this question.

The tool is called the Strong Interest Inventory, and this test and some versions of it are sometimes used at LHS with students. About 70% of colleges use the SII to help students with career planning.

The reason that the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) is useful in adolescence and in Lexington is because it can help with identity formation, self-confidence, and direction for activity areas to build upon interests and strengths. This is because:

—Inherent in the outcomes is the legitimacy of diverse work roles and work styles.

—The different types of people are all successful types, whether they are Accountant, Corporate Trainer, Forester, introvert, extrovert, team player, individual contributor.

—Therefore, an adolescent can see reflected in their SII results their own legitimacy of interests and the potential for their success in roles that interest them.

As one of my high school clients said after reading through her SII profile, “There is hope for me after all!”

One high school student identified that a good first step towards law might be to become a paralegal- since she could envision getting an Associates Degree but not doing 6 years of college and law school. Being a paralegal would get her working sooner, which is what she wants, and would get her a degree which is what her parents want. It is also a job that offers an advantage in terms of getting a BA in law enforcement or social work- other areas of interest. This information will help streamline the college search process. The student is reporting less stress already, because she feels more in control of her life.

The case of the missing major

The college version helps students with selecting courses, selecting a major and minors, and identifying job categories after graduation. Here is a recent story about that.

A client of mine had just completed his freshman year at St Michael’s College and came to discuss the fracture that had developed between his mother and himself over what he should be studying in college, and subsequently, what sort of work would he do.

The mom, who has an MBA from the University of Chicago, was quite certain that business was the only way to go in this new global economy. The son was quite sure that teaching was what he wanted. The mom told me, “He only wants teaching, because he doesn’t know anything else. He’s been in school for 13 years, and all he has been exposed to is teachers.” She told her son she would no longer pay for his college if he pursued a career in teaching. The two of them agreed to the son taking the SII and looking at the results together.

The son’s SII results showed his interests were not in the area of entrepreneurship, i.e. what his mother’s SII results would look like if she took the test. According to the young man, “No wonder she doesn’t get it.” In addition to showing his genuine interest in teaching, the results also surfaced a keen interest in graphic arts. Interestingly the son had been compiling videos and constructing presentations for his mom’s business during his high school years. Mom proudly said, “His work is excellent, completely professional. He could earn a living from that.” The son said, “I have been thinking about taking some more classes in that area, because there is so much more I could do and it comes pretty easy to me.”

What the son and the mom agreed on was that the son would pursue a graphic arts major with the intent of getting into this field after college. Somewhere down the line, the son thinks he may want to become a college professor and teach graphic arts. The son’s classes for sophomore year reflect his new direction in graphic arts with a nod to some psychology courses which are of interest. And yes, mom is still paying the tuition

 

Beth Baldwin, LMHC, is a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Lexington at Lexington Counseling, 18 Muzzey Street. www.lexingtoncounseling.net. Beth grew up in Lexington, attended Maria Hastings, Diamond, and LHS. Beth has a diverse career history included teaching middle school and high school science in the US, UK, and Greece, business school, advertising and marketing positions in London and NYC, her own marketing research consultancy, a second master’s degree, community mental health, and private practice. Beth is married with three children who attend or have graduated from Lexington schools. The family resides in Lexington in the house built by Beth’s grandparents in 1931.

Beth Baldwin, LMHC /Lexington Counseling /18 Muzzey St /Lexington, MA 02421 /Tel: 781-862-8621

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