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NEWS | Feb. 11, 2014

Shedding light on the bruises: JBLE brings awareness to teen dating violence

By Staff Sgt. Katie Gar Ward 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

In a year's time, one in 10 American teens were physically abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend, according to a recent national survey. The 2010 U.S. Census reported the population of youth ages 10-19 was as 40,717,537. Analyzing those statistics suggests more than 4 million American teens annually experience dating abuse.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, statistics from that survey also state nearly half of all teens have friends who have been in a verbally-abusive relationship.

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis Service members are encouraged to understand what teen dating violence is, how to prevent it and what resources are available to help those affected.

"Dating violence comes in many forms," said Barbara Bothwell, Langley Air Force Base Family Advocacy outreach manager. "It can be constant name calling and put-downs, pressure to use alcohol or drugs or demands to be constantly available. Pressure to have sexual contact and even rape are not unusual."

Bothwell said parents should also be aware of digital abuse, which involves constant texting and instant messaging, or use of social media to intimidate a victim by stalking through cell phones.

"Parents should be looking for changes in mood or personality, the onset of depression and sadness or constant worrying about what the partner will think," she said. "Physical indicators may be changing the way they dress, wear their hair or how they talk in order to make the partner happy."

Indicators of a teen involved in an abusive relationship can vary, said A.J. Brandt, Fort Eustis Family Advocacy outreach manager. Some signs include isolating the teen from family and friends, unexplained physical injuries, emotional outbursts and failing grades.

"Parents should notice if their teen starts checking their phone constantly, displaying extreme jealousy or beginning to withdraw," said Brandt. "It's an extremely prevalent issue. When I started discussing this topic with teens, almost all of them would know someone who was being abused. To me, that was shocking."

Brandt and Bothwell both suggest parents play a critical role in deterring teen dating violence, and can start by having open discussions with their children and being aware of their friendships.

"Parent involvement is crucial - talk with your teen and let him or her know you are aware of how prevalent and serious dating violence is," said Bothwell. "Make sure your teen knows you can be called for a ride home, without [ramifications], if she or he is in an uncomfortable position--even if alcohol or drugs are involved. Know where your teen is going and with whom, and know the cell phone numbers of friends."

Bothwell said it's never too early for parents to become involved in educating their children on abuse, and they should also make efforts to set an example.

"Conversations about characteristics of healthy versus unhealthy relationships can be incorporated into conversations from a very early age," said Bothwell. "This makes a child much less likely to be involved in an unhealthy relationship. It is also important for parents to provide a home where everyone is treated with consideration and respect without verbal abuse or violence."

Brandt echoed Bothwell's sentiment, stressing the significance of a child's environment.

"Parents are the number-one support system for their child and as an adult, they can advocate for their child," said Brandt. "They certainly should lead by example. When they talk [to their teen] about domestic violence, it's important they also demonstrate a healthy relationship. Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence are more likely to either become a victim or victimize others in their relationships."

Bothwell and Brandt advise parents seeking education on teen dating violence to take the Active Parenting of Teens class offered through the JBLE Family Advocacy Prevention Program. The class, offered at Fort Eustis from 9 to noon every Friday from Feb. 21 - March 14, focuses on effective communication with teens and addresses concerns of drugs, sexuality and violence.

"Most of all, listen. Resist the urge to offer advice or put down the boyfriend or girlfriend, which can make the teen defend him or her," said Bothwell. "If your teen is telling you something is wrong, make the time to carefully listen."

For additional information, contact the Fort Eustis Family Advocacy Office at 878-0807, the Langley Family Advocacy Office at 764-2427 or visit Parents and teens can also call the hotline at 866-331-9474.