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.
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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
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.
- The State of Male Adolescence Today
- 10 Things You Need To Know About Date Rape
- The Importance Of Harmonious Peer Relationship
- Forgiveness: A Leap Of Faith
- Teen Dating Violence
- Roles Of Children In Dysfunctional Families
- Self Injury Quick Reference
- Ten Strategies for Working with Boys
- Cognitive Distortions
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org