When I first started speaking to teens about healthy relationships, I didn't realize how prevalent teen dating violence was.
Not until I started receiving letters like the one below, from girls who lived through it.
I have been through a lot and I just don’t know how to tell my mom. I was with this boy and he totally turned my life upside down. At first, he was really sweet and caring and I thought that he really loved me. Then it got crazy! He hit me, called me names, called me fat, and cheated on me. Even though he did all this stuff, I stayed with him and I exploited myself. I sent him nude pictures of myself and other things. Then he told his friends. I kind of hope you read this letter in class to tell girls that they deserve better and not to stick around with someone like that because they don’t really love you like they say they do.
It didn't take long to notice common threads throughout the hundreds of letters girls have written describing abuse they suffered at the hands of a boyfriend they believed loved them.
So, I started sharing these letters in class to educate girls (and guys) about teen dating violence. With hopes that one day young ladies will no longer need to write them.
Today I'm doing the same in this post, in recognition of February being Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
I'm hoping that together we can prevent teen dating violence from ever becoming your daughter's story.
The Lesson in the Letters
Nobody asks to be physically, sexually, psychologically or emotionally abused.
So, it's important to tell girls that teen dating violence is. NOT. their. fault!
And as powerless as they might feel within that situation, they have more power than they think.
Like the power to walk away from an abusive relationship.
When I read letters in class from girls who've stayed longer than they should have, we talk about the patterns that contributed to them choosing to stay.
The lessons these letters reveal may just help you save your daughter.
1. They don't love themselves enough to walk away.
Two years ago, in my sophomore year, I met this boy who I thought I truly loved. We were together for a year and a half, and in that year, I was abused emotionally and physically. It took me forever to believe he didn’t love me the way I loved him.
He may not have loved her the way she loved him, but maybe he loved her just as much as she loved herself. Because if she really loved herself, she would have never tolerated the abuse for a year and a half. Like I shared in my last post, the most important thing you can teach your daughter is how to love herself. When she learns that, she'll never stay in an abusive relationship.
2. They ignore the red flags out of fear of losing the relationship.
It all started July 4th before freshman year. This guy and I started dating. It was a mentally abusive relationship for 9 months. He was very short and that caused him to be insecure and I thought that if I had sex with him it would change that. I was wrong, the abuse got worse. I didn’t even want to have sex and I even cried at the thought of it, but I was so scared of him leaving me that I was willing to do anything.
Dr. Maya Angelou once said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." That's a lesson ALL girls need to learn. And now is a great time to sit down with your daughter to discuss red flags she should look out for when dating (i.e. insecurity, jealousy, possessiveness). That way, if/when she finds herself in a relationship and the flags start waving, she'll heed them the first time and walk away.
3. They believe it's "normal."
A few years ago, I had a very abusive boyfriend, both verbally and physically. He would push me against hard places like doors and buildings and even against his car from time to time. Growing up my stepdad would occasionally do the same thing and that’s why when my ex did it,
I wasn’t scared.
Girls who see violence in their relationships as "normal" suffer from a distorted view of what love is. Not to mention low self-worth that fools them into accepting abuse as the price they have to pay for being "in love."
So, find out what your daughter's view of love is, and be prepared to challenge it if you discover it's not a healthy one. Talk to her about the kind of love she deserves and don't forget to remind her that "Love DOESN'T Hurt!"
The lessons in the letters I've shared above may not eliminate teen dating violence.
But, they might be the difference between your daughter recognizing the signs early on that say "this isn't healthy for me, walk away," and her becoming another statistic.
According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, "3 in 4 parents never talk to their kids about teen dating violence."
So, guess what Mom?
If you just start with discussing this blog post with your daughter, you're already ahead of the game!
For more information about teen dating violence, check out the links below:
- Youth.Gov's Teen Dating Violence Prevention Resources
- The Respect Challenge Quiz (Is your daughter in a healthy or unhealthy relationship?)
- Futures Without Violence How to Talk to Teens About Dating Violence
Are you one of the 1 in 4 parents who've talked to their kids about teen dating violence? If so, we'd like to hear about the conversation you had with your daughter. And more importantly how has it impacted her dating choices?
Feel free to leave your comments below.
P.S. Don't forget to check out those teen dating violence resources, especially the quiz.