Relationships are the essence of our lives. Our interactions with family, friends, teachers, co-workers and significant others are critical to our overall well-being. As a parent, I strive to teach my two daughters,13-year-old Lisa and 11-year-old Claire, how to build healthy relationships. Together we talk about the qualities of a good friend, how they can be a good friend and behaviors harmful to friendships. Importantly, their dad and I seek to model healthy relationships with each other and with them.
My hope for Lisa and Claire is that the healthy relationships we try to foster between them and with their friends will form a solid foundation for moving into healthy dating relationships. In my role at the CDC Injury Center, I see many injury and violence statistics, but as the mother of two young daughters, the ones concerning teens always pique my interest. According to 2007 data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, about 10 percent of American high school students report being hit, slapped or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s critical we help young people identify signs of a violent or unhealthy relationship before they begin to date. Early efforts to promote healthy, respectful dating relationships are more likely to prevent dating violence before the problem begins.
As much as we can do in the home, it’s normal for adolescents to look outside their families for validation. Already, my 11-year-old seeks opinions of other adults and older teens, and I understand it’s beneficial for her to confide in and listen to them. Children sometimes spend more hours in a day with educators – teachers, coaches, administrators and counselors – than they do with their own parents. This is a lot of responsibility and it is also an amazing opportunity. If educators are knowledgeable about dating violence and are prepared to talk about it openly with students, they can teach students about the importance of healthy relationships. This could help prevent teen dating violence from occurring.
To help educators facilitate those discussions, CDC , in partnership with Liz Claiborne Inc., developed Dating Matters: Understanding Teen Dating Violence Prevention. In just 60 minutes, this free, online training helps educators gain first-hand knowledge of the risk factors and warning signs associated with teen dating violence and provides resources on helping teens build healthy relationships. The training is designed for educators and others who work with youth between the ages of 11 and 14, a time when, like my daughters, young people are learning about relationships with potential dating partners.
Of course, schools by themselves cannot-and should not be expected to-solve the nation’s most serious health and social problems. Families, health care workers, the media, religious organizations, community organizations that serve youth, and young people themselves also must be systematically involved. However, schools provide a good base for many agencies to work together to maintain the well-being of teens.
It’s been my experience in my own education, and with Lisa and Claire, that the majority of educators care deeply about the well-being of young people, beyond just academics. So I hope you will join me in encouraging the educators you know to access this on-line tool and the resources it offers to prevent teen dating violence before it happens. Creating, influencing, and fostering teen dating violence prevention efforts gives us the opportunity to make a positive impact both today and years from now.