Shocker: What Your Teen’s Not Telling You

This is one of an occasional post from Margaret Epperheimer, a seven-year member of Next Door’s Board of Directors.

Okay. So, it’s no surprise your teenager is not as forthcoming as you’d like. There are secrets, to be sure, and even things you don’t want to know. But certain behaviors in the world of teen dating should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It did mine.

  • Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, according to research done by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
  • A Liz Claiborne Inc.-sponsored survey revealed 57 percent of teens know someone who has been physically, sexually or verbally abusive in a dating relationship.
  • Locally, an informal survey conducted by teens at Los Altos High School, under the auspices of Next Door, found 50 percent of respondents at that school said they knew someone who was involved in a teen dating violence situation.
  • Dating aside, a survey conducted during the 2010-11 school year by the American Association of University Women found student-on-student sexual harassment is pervasive in America’s middle schools and high schools. Of students in grades 7-12, fully 48% experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, email and social media.

What’s going on? The experts say – despite our intellectual and societal orientation toward gender equity – our youth are exposed to messages through popular culture which often express ambivalence or inevitability regarding violence in intimate relationships and perpetuate traditional gender roles that hold girls and women as subservient to boys and men. Teen cultural icons exert powerful influences on our plugged-in youth, and a few well-publicized incidences can make relationship violence appear tolerated and without serious consequences for the abuser. Girls take on a disproportionate burden.

Somebody better do something, right? Well, they are. Locally, Next Door has an innovative program called Teen P.O.W.E.R (Proud of Wanting Equal Relationships). The program recognizes teens are more responsive to and influenced by attitudes and beliefs of their peers than they are to yours and mine. The program, supported this year by a generous grant from the Verizon Foundation, uses a peer-lead, multi-year, long-term approach designed to implement teen dating violence outreach, prevention and education campaigns for their high school and middle school peers in Santa Clara County.

Just the same, you and I are not off the hook. February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness month. The best thing to prevent dating violence is to be informed. It may seem intuitive to you what an unhealthy relationship looks like, but it’s not as clear to a teen. You can insist your local middle and high schools take this issue as seriously as the elementary schools now take bullying. It takes all of us to change the perception of teen dating violence from acceptable and inevitable to unacceptable, preventable and avoidable. If you need guidance on how you can take action, make an impact or provide help, contact Next Door (408-501-7550). Crystal Talitonu-Naea (ctalitonu@nextdoor.org) is Next Door’s youth program coordinator. She’ll know how to direct you.

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