McGuire: Combatting teen dating violence as a community

Some of our children are hiding a dangerous secret. Hopefully, new legislation passed this summer will help to change that.

Illinois House Bill 3379 requires school boards to adopt a policy on teen dating violence. The policy must establish procedures for school employees to respond when they become aware of teen dating violence and, under the bill, schools must educate students about dating violence.

The reality is that one in three teens report that they’ve experienced dating violence. At Family Shelter Service, we know that teen dating violence crosses all racial, economic and social lines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many children reported first experiencing partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17. Teen dating violence is complicated by social pressure, inexperience, the need for independence from parents.

What can parents do? Before children begin dating, discuss with them how to develop healthy relationships. If you suspect your teen is already in an abusive relationship, look for specific signs — declining grades, personality changes, emotional volatility, substance abuse and injuries.

It may be easy to pass off these interactions as “puppy love,” but abusive relationships can last a lifetime. Recently, a community member reported on Family Shelter’s Facebook page that she had been in a violent relationship during high school, was sexually assaulted and after that believed she was obligated to stay in the relationship and marry her abuser. After years of suffering, she finally got help.

Domestic battery is the number one crime in Illinois. As we approach Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, it’s not only a good time to talk about the issue with our children who are of dating age, but also to ask school leaders about their plans to comply with the new mandate, which takes effect immediately.

If you are unsure how to talk with your children about teen dating violence, Family Shelter Service can put you in touch with resources for discussing this critical issue. Teen dating violence can have detrimental effects that last a lifetime. It’s important that the entire community rallies around this issue to protect our children... the most vulnerable among us.

Maureen McGuire is the marketing and communications representative for Family Shelter Service.