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Teen Dating Violence Article

Many people wonder how dating abuse and violence begins and there is no definite answer, but it most commonly begins with the wearing down of the victim’s self-esteem.  Abusers do this because it gives them authority and power over the other person.  “Abusers may feel insecure or uncertain about themselves or their lives.  Or they may feel like they don’t have much control over anything.  So they use power and control in their relationships to make themselves feel better.”2 Once the victim’s self-esteem is broken down, (s)he becomes vulnerable to all forms of abuse.  There are countless resources now available to public that will equip them to educate not only themselves, but also the youth they come in contact with.  Knowledge is power and power can end this horrible cycle of violence.


How To Talk About Intimate Partner Violence With Your Students: A Guide For Youth Workers

Teen dating happens more than you can imagine. In a 2015 study, the majority of teen dating violence victims told no one about the abuse—fewer than 22% told a friend, and only 5% told an adult. The reasons that adolescents are hesitant to tell adults are varied. They often fear nobody will believe them or that they will be blamed for the problem. Many fear their abuser will try to get back at them and hurt them more. The cycle of abuse fuels feelings of shame and vulnerability and further isolates victims from supportive relationships.

Youth workers can be an ally in ending this harmful cycle by reaching out to students who may be struggling in an abusive relationship. When youth workers respond to incidents of dating violence they communicate to students that the church is a safe place where violence is not tolerated and their dignity is valued.

Dating violence, like any form of abuse, is complicated. Being courageous enough to lean into a messy situation can start to make a student victim feel they are not alone. One conversation will not “fix” the problem but it can be a catalyst for healing. Also, a talk with you could empower him or her to speak openly about the problem and seek the help they need.

Knowing how to talk to youth about intimate partner violence is a challenge. Not everyone feels capable or competent to have these conversations. What follows is a process to help you speak effectively with students about dating violence. You will need to know the best way to approach a student who may be at risk, how to honestly and directly state your concern, and how best to respond to what they tell you.

Cultivate Security—Put the student at ease by creating a safe environment. Find a safe space for you to talk to the student. This can go a long way towards getting a student to open up about an abusive relationship. Confidentiality and gentleness are foundations of a secure and safe setting.

  1. Explain Limits of Confidentiality—This is a sensitive conversation that should take place between you and the student but, if harm is occurring to the student, you may be required to report the abuse. Check your church policies and state laws. Most state laws include lay clergy as mandated reporters. Don’t make promises of secrecy to the student. Assure them you will always act on their behalf, that you are in this for the long haul, and if you should have to report information you will do so as a partner with the student and will allow them the opportunity to advocate for him or herself.
  2. Don’t Overreact—Invite honest discussion using a friendly, calm tone when you speak. Watch your posture. Your body language can cause a scared student to withdraw and withhold information. Smile often and speak tenderly. Also, don’t sit behind a desk or across a table, sit beside or in front of.

Get Your Hands Dirty and Dig In—Do not be afraid to be direct but kind. This kind of approach conveys compassion and seriousness. Speak directly and warmly. Let the student know that you take both his or her overall wellbeing and the issue of dating abuse seriously. Doing this expresses trust that will be necessary to foster an honest, constructive dialogue. An effective inquiry is kind, direct, brief, and has 3 parts:

  1. Specific and clear portrayal of what you saw. Note time and place: “Jennifer, yesterday when you were walking down the hall to Sunday School I noticed that Geoffrey grabbed you by the arm.”
  2. Show the association of that act with the definition of abuse: “When one person in a relationship hurts their partner or tries to make them feel afraid, it’s called abuse, and it’s never ok.”
  3. Express your concern and then invite them to share more about the relationship/event: “I’m concerned that you are not safe in this relationship. Would you like to talk about it?”

Be present and listen well. You may be tempted to want to jump in a fix the problem immediately but that can feel overwhelming to a scared teenager. Also, the fear that adults don’t really want to listen to kids can be directly challenged by actively listening to their story, even if you don’t think they are being honest with you. Make good eye contact, don’t interrupt, and ask for clarification when needed.

Respond with Appropriate Empathy and Validation—Once the student has finished sharing, it is essential to validate what they share with you and be empathetic in your response. This to happen whether or not the student divulges abuse.

If the student does not reveal abuse:

“Thank you. Your wellbeing and safety is very important to me. If you ever feel unsafe, I’m here for you.”

Fight the urge to push, if there is abuse, the student must choose how, who, and when to talk about it. Your job is to validate, convey empathy, and keep the door open.

If the student does reveal abuse:

Be Supportive: Let the student know you support them (even if you don’t believe them).

“I am here for you in this.”

Be Empathetic: Let the student know you understand their feelings, fears, and insecurities about what will happen next.

“The abuse you have suffered is not your fault”

“You are not alone”

Refer and Report—Brainstorm with the student options for moving forward. Keep in mind mandatory reporting concerns while allowing the student a measure of self-determination. Help them problem-solve who they tell next, how they should report, and if they need extra help, such as a counselor or law enforcement support. Develop a plan for bringing the student’s parents into the discussion. Direct the student towards community resources.

This process will likely be a journey for the victim, the abuser, both families, siblings, and friends, as well as you and your volunteers. Knowing your limitations is important in navigating a crisis well. It is possible to work through an experience such as this but tough conversations will need to be had, boundaries will need to be set, and policies will need to be developed to create a responsive and safe environment for students who risk being vulnerable when intimate partner violence occurs.


Helping Teens Navigate Dating Abuse

National statistics on dating violence show a startling trend:

  • 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
  • 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Girls between ages 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Three times the national average.

Teens are more than likely to first disclose abuse to a peer but if they chose to disclose abuse to a trusted adult we should be equipped to help them navigate the process. Below are some suggestions on how we can best help a young person begin the journey of addressing the abuse.

Barriers to Disclosing Abuse

Let’s start by looking at the reasons a young person might not say anything about the abuse:

  1. Fear of not being believed.
  2. Humiliation.
  3. They believe they are responsible for the abuse.
  4. Need to protect the abuse/family.
  5. Asking for help equals weakness.
  6. Fear of reprisal.

What Leads to Disclosure

  1. Anger
  2. Medical concerns
  3. Realizing implications of abuse
  4. Asked about the abuse by a non-family member
  5. Siblings are at-risk
  6. Abuse becomes intolerable
  7. No longer in relationship with abuser
  8. Safe relationships to confide in

How Best to Respond

  1. Empathy
  2. Don’t judge/Check personal bias
  3. Be direct but don’t force the conversation
  4. Manage your reactions (don’t overreact)
  5. Remember appropriate developmental expectations
  6. Be patient
  7. Consider gender/sexuality issues
  8. Follow-up/Take action

If you work with youth/teens in any capacity you are likely a mandated reporter (check your state guidelines). It would also be wise to develop a program policy specific to how your team should handle disclosure of abuse of any kind.



Sex and Violence in Youth Ministry

In today’s urban dating culture many express how frustrating and unsatisfied they are because dating patterns encourage young men to be aggressive and young women to be accommodating.

Unfortunately, sex and violence are so intertwined for men that an easy separation is impossible.  Violence is constantly glamorized and sexualized in the urban culture.  The multibillion-dollar pornography industry is the clearest example of how we learn that power and control are tied to sexual arousal.  Even in children’s comic books, popular music and videos, and magazine advertisements, we are constantly reminded that dominating and subduing women is sexy and arousing.  The primary message young men receive is that having sexual access to women and having someone sexually vulnerable to you are the quintessential signs of male power, the epitome of success.  Women are constantly shown accompanying other signs of male power and success, such as fast cars, fancy stereos, money, and guns.

Some of these images portray the women as protesting vigorously at first, then finally giving up and enjoying sex.  In this way young men are taught that women are somehow turned on by the aggression displayed by men.  They may protest or say no at first to protect their reputation, but when they relax and enjoy it, they will grow aroused by the man’s aggression.  If they don’t, then there is something wrong with them.

The result of this training is that men are given permission to use sexual aggression to control women, to deny what they’re doing and then assert that it’s no big deal anyway.  If this goes on long enough it soon becomes the norm.  Young men assume this is the way relations between men and women are naturally.  If there is any guilt or remorse, the young women gets the blame.

  • She’s a tease
  • She’s frigid
  • She’s too emotional
  • She shouldn’t have said that
  • She knew that would make me angry
  • She asked for it
  • She said no but she meant yes
  • If she didn’t want it she wouldn’t dress like that

There are so many layers of aggression, blame, and denial that there is no way for young men to see the impact their thoughts and behaviors have on the women around them.  We can even use the Scriptures to reinforce these ideas that women are inferior, further damaging the inherent dignity and value each young woman has, leading to a fractured image of who she was created to be by God.

  • What role does the church/your ministry have in (inadvertently) reinforcing these false beliefs?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation about male gender training with the young men in your ministry?
  • What are new values/beliefs that need to be taught from Scripture to replace old, harmful beliefs?
  • How can we affirm young males without encouraging male privilege?

Violence Is A Male Problem (part 1 of 2)

According to United States Department of Justice statistics – Uniform Crime Report and Bureau Statistic

  • 89.0% of those arrested for all violent crimes were men.
  • 87.5% of those arrested for murder were men.
  • 98.8% of forcible rapes we committed by men.
  • 91.9% of robberies were committed by men.
  • 86.7% of those arrested for aggravated assaults were men.
  • 92.2% of those arrested for sex offenses (not rape or prostitution) were men.
  • Wars are instigated and generally carried out by men (although this number has changed significantly in the last decade).

Training to be a man = Training to be violent

Virtually every man has experienced violence in his life and is trained to use violence for resolving conflict if he deems it necessary.  Most men has engaged in fist fights, verbal threats, pushing, shoving, grabbing, or intimidation.  For almost all men the use of physical force to resolve conflict is an option that they have experienced in at least one of three ways: (1) they have used physical force to win something, (2) they have been victims of physical force, or (3) they have seen someone use physical force.  Violence for men is a common experience and under many circumstances some men view violence as an acceptable response to a threat from either men or women.  The threat need not be physical harm; it could be a threat to self-worth, self-esteem, security, or person ambitions.  Acknowledging violence as “normal” male behavior is important for the understanding of dating/domestic violence.

Two reasons for male violence

The process of molding violent men begins very early and is a pattern of development our society considers normal.  First, almost all societies want men to have the potential to use physical force as a legitimate means to resolve conflict.  Societies sanction violence in specific circumstances such as war, police activities, defense of family and self, and sports.  Historically men have trained to wage war in order to protect family, clan, city and state or to expand the domain that each family, clan, city or state controls.  Whether it is used for protection or expansion, violence helps ensure the survival of the culture for which men fight.  And for thousands of years, men have been willing to to risk death or dismemberment to protect their cultures.  several conditions enable men to go to war and kill or be killed (We’ll explore these conditions in another post).  Training for violence starts within the family and with the games of adulthood.

The second reason for male violence is that many men have been given neither the means to determine acceptable boundaries for violence nor have they been given the tools to resolve conflict without resorting to coercion.  Many men come from families that injure rather than protect.   These men are left with a pervasive sense of alienation, loneliness, inadequacy, mistrust, and fear, and they have no adequate means of coping with these feelings.

Men who were abuse as children, i.e. were victims of violence inflicted by their families, are unable to establish acceptable personal boundaries for themselves or others and frequently feel threats to their self-worth as threats to their survival.  When abusive men perceive themselves as threatened, hence endangered by emotional conflict, they do all they can to win and survive.   If they cannot assure emotional survival by lesser means, they will use violence.

Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why Has The Teen World Buzzing

If you haven’t heard about the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why you’ve been living under a rock. It’s all anyone is talking about right now. This series is based on the Jay Asher novel of the same name. This story centers on Hanna, a teenager who takes her own life due to a series of events. She leaves behind a series of cassette tapes to explain what led to her suicide and the role others played in driving her to that point. Here’s the summary:

The #1 New York Times bestseller and modern classic that’s been changing lives for a decade.

You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

The series is not for tweens. It’s definitely for a more mature audience and should be discussed to help the students process what they’re seeing. This is a realistic expression of the rawness of teen life so there’s quite of bit of language, mature content, implied sex, rape, self-injury, and suicide. The book and the series aims to address the difficult issues adolescents face daily and it will be hard for parents and adults to watch or to believe life can be like this.

The topics addressed in the series have long been the focus of Conversations on the Fringe. Here’s a list of links to the topics explored on the show that we’ve written about:





Dating Violence


Look for more resources in the next couple weeks on 13 Reasons Why. We’ll be interviewing students, releasing a discussion guide, and will continue to explore themes addressed in the book/series. If your kids aren’t watching this already, they are talking about it daily with their friends that have seen it. Use this opportunity to lean into the difficult issues your teens might be facing but are often so hard to talk about.

Conversations on the Fringe: 2016 Year in Review

2016 was our busiest and most fruitful year to date. There’s so much that happened over the year that we’d love to share with you but we’ve condensed it down to the highlights. Thanks for making 2016 an awesome year. We’re looking forward to journeying through 2017 with you.

Grace and peace,

Chris Schaffner

Founder of Conversations on the Fringe


Top 10 Blog Posts

  1. Youth Ministry and the Post-modern Learner
  2. Teen Gender Dysphoria and Christmas Shopping
  3. Sex, Aggression, and Adolescents
  4. How to Talk About Intimate Partner Violence with Your Students: A Guide For Youth Workers
  5. Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth
  6. Imaginative Hope
  7. Trauma-Informed Youth Ministry
  8. White Privilege
  9. Protecting Against Sexual Abuse In Youth Programs
  10. This is Your Brain On Opiates



  • Youth Specialties Facebook Live Q&A Series (self-harm, addiction, depression/suicide)
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth for the Illinois Mennonite Conference
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth at Simply Youth Ministry Conference
  • Conflict Management at Youth Leadership Academy at Elgin Community College
  • Reimagining Adolescence at the Faith Forward Gathering
  • Racial Reconciliation Experience at National Youth Worker Convention
  • Student Retreat at Heights Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, NM
  • Guest Lecturing at Eureka College on Systemic Abandonment and Moral Disengagement for the Juvenile Criminal Justice Program


New Initiative in 2016

Innovative Disruption – Helping churches disrupt the status quo and discover innovative ways to reach marginalized and vulnerable youth.

Fringe Life Support Training – Helping churches help hurting youth through pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and mentoring.

RealTalk Drug Prevention – Working with communities who desire to have honest conversations about effective drugs and alcohol prevention among area youth. We offer a variety of educational opportunities for students, parents, schools, and communities.

Reimagining Adolescence – We explore the developmental, physiological, social, cultural, and spiritual complexities of guiding adolescents through contemporary society. This event is perfect for parents, grandparents, teachers, social workers, coaches, youth workers, or anyone else that love kids and desire to walk with them as they navigate an increasingly difficult world.

AND…CHRIS RAN INTO BILL MURRAY!!! (That was a personal highlight, even though he locked up and could barely talk to him.)


Dreams for 2017

True North Youth Leadership Training Online Cohort – This online student leadership cohort is aimed at nurturing and activating your student’s leadership through individual and group projects that will directly impact the community they live in.

Fringe Learning Labs – Learning Labs fill in the gap that traditional youth ministry education doesn’t address. We provide an affordable, customized training experience for volunteer and staff youth workers to explore difficult issues facing yout today; issues such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and mental health.

Prisoners of Love: Teen Dating Violence Education

Dirty Little Secrets: dealing with the Problem of Porn

Digital and printed resources for youth, parents, and youth workers

Incorporation as a 501c3 nonprofit organization

Top 10 Most Read Blog Posts Of 2010

While trying to discern what information is being searched for and consumed the most we were able to identify topics that are in need of further exploration.  Our top 10 list of 2010 is not a self-congratulatory pat on the back but rather an attempt to guide our focus for 2011.

The following posts we our most read blog posts of 2010 and therefore the ones that revealed some of the areas of greatest need.

  1. The State of Male Adolescence Today
  2. 10 Things You Need To Know About Date Rape
  3. The Importance Of Harmonious Peer Relationship
  4. Forgiveness: A Leap Of Faith
  5. Teen Dating Violence
  6. Roles Of Children In Dysfunctional Families
  7. Self Injury Quick Reference
  8. Ten Strategies for Working with Boys
  9. Cognitive Distortions
  10. Basic Brain Function and Emotional Hijacking

It’s obvious to us that there is a great need for resources/information on working with and understanding young, developing boys, teen dating violence, self-injury, and understanding the brain of adolescents.  But we’d also like to hear from you about what topics, information, research we can provide so you can continue to grow in your capacity for loving and equipping young people to follow in the ways of Jesus.

From us to you and yours, prayers of blessings and gratitude for your support of Conversations on the Fringe in 2010.

Guidelines For Discussing Teen Suicide

With teen suicide getting more attention in the news lately it has been revealed that there is a lack of resources to effectively discuss the subject with our students.  It is important to have these discussion but it is equally important to have good discussions.  The following are guideline for having those discussions, in a formal setting, with your students and their parents.

A special concern for the leader to take into account is that you can’t discuss suicide without touching on your own feelings – students’ and your own.  Discussion of suicide will not burden the student and isn’t likely to “plant” the idea in their heads.  The teacher must also recognize that this topic needs to be discussed so that students have accurate information, even if someone in the community is not supportive.  The following teaching strategies are recommended:

  • Provide structure and ground rules for the class.
  • Recognize cultural differences and protect students’ privacy. (unless there is disclosure to harm oneself)
  • Give honestly of yourself in the discussions.
  • Be familiar with referral procedures.
  • Stress that everyone can be depressed at some time.
  • Be alert and sensitive to students who are upset.
  • Don’t try to scare students.
  • Provide some lightness through a positive emphasis and permit some humor.
  • Assist students and be available, but recognize that you are not a therapist.

The first lesson promotes an understanding of the problem of youth suicide.  Students can be asked a number of questions to stimulate their thinking and to clarify the many misperceptions that exist regarding depression and suicide.  Students are also asked to identify community resources to assist suicidal youths.  Students are asked to visit such agencies and to gather information about them.

The second lesson emphasizes the warning signs and stresses that depression is common and often situational in nature.  A group sharing time could be useful that encourages students to think about a time when they were depressed.  The exercise focuses on how they felt and acted at the time, to whom they talked, and what helped them through the depressed period.

The third lesson centers on stress, substance use, and suicidal risk.  The variety of stressors that teenagers face are emphasized.  The relationship between stress and drug/alcohol use is emphasized.  Positive steps to cope with stress are taught.  Consider bringing in a counselor/therapist to facilitate this discussion.

The goal of the fourth lesson if to help students communicate with and assist a suicidal friend.  It is pointed out that secrets must not be kept about suicidal behavior.  Activities could include role-playing communication skills.  Steps in helping a suicidal friend are identified; who to contact , how to listen, identifying negative emotions, role-playing a number of scenarios where one student responds to a suicidal friend.  In these role-plays, showing caring, providing empathetic responses, giving support, and lending perspective are emphasized.  (this is not an attempt to pawn off this responsibility on our youth, it is simply a reality that a student is more likely to tell another student that they are suicidal that an adult.  This is an attempt to equip students with “what is the first step” information and to hopefully neutralize a situation until an adult can engage)

The final lesson focuses on help available in the community agencies that they contacted as part of the homework for the first lesson.  A master list of community services is made for each student and how to contact help in case of an emergency.  It is suggestion that students receive a wallet-sized card with community resource information on it, including resources available at their school.

*  Each lesson should provide goals, and objectives, and homework of some sort.

A local youth group would bi-annually facilitate a 6 week series they called “Coping With…” and would bring in local professionals to share with students and their families.  In this series they would address the many stressors/problems that youth face today, such as; anger, bullying, substance use, finances, dating violence, grief/death, suicide, depression, and other dark subject.  The students families were always invited and even had a specific class gear directly towards them.  The parents’ class usually addressed issues such as technology, early screening for depression, systemic abandonment, etc.

If you want more information on developing a “Coping With…” series for your youth ministry please email us at

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