Today is Valentine’s Day—a day for the celebration of lasting love and giddy infatuation—and all across Canada, teenaged couples are indulging in a little romance. Young love has a special magic all its own. According to a survey by Michigan State University, 75% of middle schoolers have been in a relationship by the time they’ve reached eighth grade. Dating, it seems, is as popular among teens as it’s ever been.
There can be, however, a darker side to teen relationships. Inexperienced as they are, they often struggle with basic elements of a romantic relationship. They deal with the same communication problems as adult couples, but often lack the emotional intelligence to solve them. Struggling to manage strong feelings, like jealousy, can also lead to conflict in what might otherwise be an idyllic partnership. When life gets complicated, many teenaged couples are ill-equipped to handle it.
An uncomfortably common result of these issues is dating violence, which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines as “the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.” No one wants to think of young people committing violence against each other, but it’s an unfortunate reality we must all face if we wish to protect victims and prevent further violence. Since roughly 30% of teens say they’ve been a victim of dating violence, this is not an issue we can afford to ignore.
What to Look For
The CDC emphasizes the importance of recognizing warning signs. You’ll find that most signs are identical to those you’d notice in an abusive adult relationship. Watch for these dynamics:
- The victim loses interest in their favourite activities and suffers other symptoms of depression.
- The victim frequently apologizes and/or explains away their partner’s behaviour.
- The perpetrator frequently demeans the victim in front of their peers. The victim has unexplained injuries they’re unwilling to discuss.
- The victim has an extremely jealous partner, who exhibits controlling behaviour and monitors the victim constantly.
- The victim resorts to substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviour.
It’s not always easy to spot dating violence, because some cases are less obvious. Indeed, some teen relationships can seem outwardly perfect, especially if the perpetrator is savvy enough to refrain from abusing their partner in any noticeable way. Crystal Sanchez describes her abusive relationship in stages. First, the infatuation, the charm, and the belief that she was special. Then came the subtle abuse, which fooled her into believing “jealousy was adoration.” Finally, her partner began to physically abuse her. She was held at gunpoint, punched into unconsciousness, emotionally manipulated via suicide threats, and nearly killed multiple times because of her partner’s dangerous driving. It took her eight years to free herself, and all throughout that time, no one really suspected what was happening to her because all the abuse took place where her friends and family could not witness it.
Don’t Let Myths Mislead You
In other cases, the abuse is overlooked because several myths surround teen relationships. For example, many believe that teens who come from loving, secure homes would never tolerate abuse and would report it immediately. As one anonymous woman explains, this is far from true. Even her loving, supportive family was unable to shield her from her abusive partner, because they assumed it would never happen to her. She was a strong, confident girl who always said she’d “never let a man hit [her].” Still, she fell for a vulnerable, harmless-seeming boy who convinced her that he was in need of nurturance, and only she could provide it. By the time she realized her relationship was unhealthy, she was in too deep to report it.
The most persistent myth appears to be that victims are always female. As we’ve discussed in the past, men and boys can fall prey to violence and abuse, but rarely report out of fear and shame. For teenaged boys, image is everything, so it can be doubly difficult to come out as a victim of dating violence.
Dating violence has long-term consequences beyond bruises and humiliation. It is so often a pipeline to repeat victimization, exploitation, and substance abuse. Victims can become permanently isolated from family and friends. They tend to abandon their dreams and goals because of unwanted pregnancy, prolonged drug use, a criminal record (in the perpetrator’s case), and mental health issues. According to research conducted by Cornell University, both victims and perpetrators may also find it impossible to maintain lasting, healthy relationships, because their past has damaged their concept of love and respect.
What can be done?
It turns out that it’s not enough to be alert for warning signs. Prevention needs to be everyone’s ultimate goal. One of the best ways to do this, as Ms. Sanchez points out, is to talk about it. Discuss dating violence with young people early on, even before middle school. Give it a name, explain what it looks like, and assure teens that they are always welcome to come forward. Education isn’t just for potential victims: potential perpetrators also benefit from learning about dating violence, which they may not always understand is unacceptable. Society has a way of tacitly enabling violence, so it’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to filter these messages effectively.
Dating is a vital part of a teen’s emotional development, and the solution is not to discourage it from occurring. Instead, we must arm them with the tools and knowledge to navigate healthy relationships and exit unhealthy ones. Teach them what to look for, guide them as they grow, and the chances of violence, and its accompanying long-term consequences, will decrease.
Myth: Asking for help makes you weak.
Many people are socialized to believe this but it is smarter to avoid working in isolation. Humans are naturally cooperative, so functioning as an island goes against nature. Feeling indebted to someone else can be awkward, but overcoming this awkwardness to lean on others shows strength, not weakness.
Myth: You’ll figure it out on your own, somehow.
Sure, it’s likely that you’ll manage on your own, but why manage when you can excel? Collaboration can yield the best results, especially if you work with people whose aptitudes are compatible with your project. Some assignments just aren’t possible to complete by yourself in a given time frame. By refusing to ask for help and struggling along on your own, you’re actually missing out on potential networking and relationship building opportunities.
Myth: People don’t want to help me.
Don’t get us wrong: during particularly busy times, your peers may be stressed and unable to take on further tasks. However, most of the time, people like to help, as altruism makes the reward pathway in the brain light up like a Christmas tree. When you specifically seek someone out for help, they may feel especially useful. Lastly, picture your own reaction: you’re willing to help others, so what makes you think they don’t want to help you, too?
Fact: Asking for help is worth it.
Don’t let these myths discourage you from asking for help. If you’re specific about what you need and why, and direct and polite when asking, you’re likely to receive the help you need. And if they say no, ask someone else, or adjust your plan for completing the assignment. In addition to meeting your targets, accepting help from someone is likely to lead to an even better relationship built on trust and mutual understanding. Of course, never forget to give a heartfelt thank you and make sure you pay it forward! Next time someone asks you for help, return the favour, if you can.
How can DECSA help you?
DECSA is available to help Albertans overcome barriers to employment and education. Individuals looking to exit the sex trade are invited to join our Transitions program, where we provide supports and encouragement to escape the sexual exploitation lifestyle. Youth between the ages of 15-30 with a visible or invisible disability are welcome in our Assets for Success and Time for Change programs, where we assist them in getting the skills and making the connections necessary to enter the workforce. We also offer a unique program for entrepreneurs with disabilities called Ventures, which assists with business planning.
So why not reach out for help when you need it? There’s a lot to gain and little to lose.
When we talk about reasons for volunteering, we often think about how it nice it can look on a resume, or how rewarding it is to give back to our community. Sure it’s great to volunteer for those reasons, but what about the potential health benefits we can reap? Here are three reasons why volunteering might also be beneficial to your mind and body:
1. It can help with periods of depression
Volunteering provides you with an opportunity to meet new people, strengthen relationships, and create or expand your support network. Individuals who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses, are often at risk of becoming socially isolated. Volunteering gets you out of the house and keeps you in contact with other people, helping you through periods of loneliness by potentially developing a strong support network.
2. It can keep you physically active
Depending on what type of volunteer work you choose to do, you might also be able to give your body a workout while giving back to your community! Try walking dogs at a local shelter, helping out at youth group, or collecting food for your local food bank. Plus, studies show that people who volunteer on a regular basis have a lower mortality rate than those who don’t.
3. It can help reduce stress
According to experts, you are less likely to feel as stressed when you are distracted from your day-to-day problems by focusing your time on someone else. You may also find that the things that have been worrying you were not as big as you thought they were, making you feel a lot less stressed as a result.
Interested in volunteering your time at DECSA? Give us a call at 780-474-2500!
Yesterday, October 23rd, was our Open House, and are so thankful for what turned out to be an awesome day. We enjoyed meeting new people, as well as reconnecting with some more familiar faces. It was the perfect opportunity for participants and staff alike to share what we do here at DECSA, and present it in a creative and interactive way. Seeing as there is such a sense of community here at DECSA, we wanted our guests to be involved in the experience, rather than just display each program’s information.
The Ventures program invited two of their successful participants to bring their businesses with them- Chipman 1/4lb. Fish and Chips , who served his food truck fare to hungry guests, and author David O’ Riordan who sold his books inside. The Assets for Success program engaged guests by offering a variety of scheduled activities including “Jeopardy” and “Speed Interviews”, which were a hit for everyone involved. One guest even cut a hallway conversation short by saying “Quick though, because I’ve got to get back to Jeopardy!” Transitions participants turned their space into a virtual tour of what is offered in their program, and created colourful displays representing topics such as Anger Management and Career Development. They even provided cookies baked during their Basic Shelf workshop!
Attendees were able to enter their names for a chance to win one of two door prizes: a leather jacket, or a yoga mat. Light refreshments were also provided, with the punch apparently stealing the show! When asked how he rated the Open House, one guest responded : “It’s a 9/10”. He then took a sip of his punch and added: “Oh wait, no. Now it’s a 10/10”
How do we feel our Open House went? As staff member Joe puts it : “Our Open House event’s positive outcome was the result of a great team effort. I was proud to be able to welcome most of the incoming guests and to encourage them to sign the guest book at the table decorated with a beautiful flower bouquet. The whole atmosphere was very friendly. The display of our programs’ information was informative and inviting. This kind of in-house networking, the interior decorations, the openness of staff to answering any questions, to offer a tour of the building, etc. was really impressive. Everything was very well organized and performed in a nice, synchronized way. It was good to see a substantial number of visitors representing various services and agencies in the community.”
A huge thank you to everyone who attended, volunteered, supported, or promoted our Open House yesterday. We couldn’t have done it without YOU!
We’ve all been in relationships, romantic or otherwise, that made us cringe inwardly. Overly close, painfully distant, perpetually irritating, frighteningly explosive – whatever the problems were, none of us want to experience those hurts again. But creating healthy relationships can be challenging and confusing.
Our relationships are central to our mental well-being. During Mental Health Week, registered psychologist Gwen Villebrun visited DECSA to discuss healthy relationships. Gwen explained that as children we developed ways to handle the challenges of living in our families. For example, a girl with a very angry mother might become very quiet and submissive to avoid conflict. The patterns we created as children, though, often do not work well when we become adults. If that quiet girl doesn’t become more assertive as she grows up, others may take advantage of her vulnerability.
The Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, and the Edmonton Police Service paint a picture of healthy relationships. Here are a few concepts they mention.
Relating healthily with another person involves:
- Open, honest communication: In healthy relationships, you address concerns and conflicts honestly.
- A variety of feelings: In healthy relationships, you may feel happiness, sadness, excitement, disappointment, anger, and other emotions.
- Support: In healthy relationships, you support and affirm the other person.
Relating healthily does not involve:
- Physical violence: Hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, pushing, etc.are not healthy ways to relate to others.
- Verbal and emotional abuse: Threatening, insulting, intimidating, ridiculing, constantly monitoring, and stalking are not healthy ways to relate to others.
“You know that saying, ‘Can’t teach an old dog new tricks’?” Gwen asked during her talk. “Now we know about neuroplasticity.” Our brains are neuroplastic, which means that our brains can change at any age. You can teach an old dog new tricks! No matter how dysfunctional our childhood families were, and no matter how long we’ve lived out those dysfunctions as adults, we can still learn better ways of relating. But changing isn’t easy. It takes honesty, awareness, effort and consistency.
For anyone who wants to learn more about developing healthy relationships, Gwen recommendations these books:
- Leaving the Enchanted Forest
By: Stephanie Covington and Liana Beckett
(Available at Thriftbooks.com and Amazon.ca)
- Codependent No More
By: Melodie Beattie
(Available at the Edmonton Public Library and Amazon.ca)
- The Dance of Intimacy
By: Harriet Lerner
(Available at the Edmonton Public Library and Amazon.ca)
DECSA wishes you the best in your relationships with your family, friends, and coworkers.