We (yes, we, all of us, I’m looking directly at you) are conditioned to believe that love and pain, love and cruelty, love and fear…are somehow cosmically connected and feelings that should cohabitate next to each other in perfect harmony. Young people (and beyond!) should expect a relationship that lives somewhere near the region of happiness and tumult.

Because that’s reality, right? People are imperfect and you take “the bad with the good,” right? And if your partner calls you names or goes through your phone or oversees your outfit choices, it just means they’re passionate about you and your relationship, right? Because all teenagers are hormonal and dramatic, right? RIGHT? NO! A thousand times no! How utterly disheartening. How frustrating! I’m deflated typing these sentences, for one, because they’re outrageous, and for two, because we’ve convinced young people that they’re true.

We’ve normalized and glamorized abusive behavior at home, at school, in entertainment, etc. Watch any episode of Friends (a show that has seen renewed popularity among Gen Zers) involving the *literal worst* Ross Geller’s relationships and you can see how possessive and controlling behaviors go unacknowledged and dressed up as quirky antics. When young people begin dating, these occurrences are employed like the most ruthless, misguided playbook.

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that “According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 11 female teens and about 1 in 15 male high school students reported having experienced physical dating violence in the last year (2020).” Those numbers are staggering and also not representative of the whole scope of abuse, as teen dating violence, like most violent crime, goes largely unreported. 

Feelings of shame, embarrassment, and apprehension toward getting their partner in trouble are just a few likely reasons for why teenagers may not disclose their abuse. Our chronic stereotyping of teenagers, however, has detrimental effects when it comes to reporting or discussing their abuse as well. Libbi Gildea, Educator at the Katie Brown Educational Program, unpacks this further. “The whole ‘snowflake’ thing/the perception that younger people are always looking to be victims. I feel like it makes teenagers second-guess the validity of their experiences.”

So what can we do? Firstly, we should be talking to young people. As RICADV states, “All of us have a role to play in promoting an understanding of healthy relationships and teen dating violence throughout our community, engaging in discussion with youth in your life around healthy relationships, and learning about ways to prevent domestic violence for future generations.”

In recognition of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence will host a workshop on February 18th titled Breaking the Cycle: Understanding Teen Dating Violence in partnership with its own SOAR (Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships) task force and the Katie Brown Educational Program. The workshop will be co-facilitated by myself, the Programs Manager at Katie Brown Educational Program, and SOAR member Haley. This partnership recognizes the importance of not only talking with young people but listening to and validating their experiences. Due to our normalization of dating violence, many abusive actions go unnoticed. During the workshop, Haley will share her story in the hopes that it supports others to recognize violence they may be experiencing, and also empower survivors to begin the process of healing. Haley writes:

“As a survivor of teen dating violence, I know firsthand that knowledge about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships is necessary. I hope that by sharing my story with you, we can prevent abuse before it starts and give those currently in abusive relationships the resources they need to survive and overcome the trauma. Domestic violence affects us all. Its outcomes extend beyond our homes and into our education, our physical and mental health, and our communities. Putting an end to domestic violence will greatly improve all areas of life.”

Breaking the Cycle: Understanding Teen Dating Violence will be held virtually on Zoom on February 18th from 1:00-2:30pm. Please register here: https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07ehi9eg1j34fa3bfd&oseq=&c=&ch=