Feb 1, 2012 7:01 PM by Andy Koen

Local agency aims to curb teen dating violence

As many as a third of all teens have been the victim of some form of physical or emotional abuse and counselors at the domestic violence advocacy group TESSA say the abuse is happening at a very early age. Clinical and Advocacy Manager Charity Richardson says they are finding children in middle school who've reported some type dating abuse.

"Up to this point in time there hasn't been a lot of intervention or awareness," Richardson said.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month and Richardson says the first red flag parents should see is a change in the way their child uses the cell phone.

"Typically it will start with a partner who constantly has to answer their cell phone or their text messages when their partner is calling or texting them."

She explains that because domestic violence is about control, parents should also watch for changes in how tier child dresses themselves.

"Often times in an abusive relationship, the abuser is trying to isolate that person," Richardson said. "So, they're telling them, I don't like your friends, I don't want you hanging out with them, trying to get them to change the way they dress."

The problem isn't entirely the teenagers' fault. Many middle school and high school romances are a young persons first experience in a dating relationship and Richardson says they may not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

Adding to the problem, Richardson says hormone levels are much higher in young people and the decision making part of their brains won't fully develop until their mid-20's.

To help curb the problem in our community, counselors with TESSA have been teaching courses at local middle and high schools that encourage young people to step-in and help their friends when they spot the warning signs of abuse.

"We're teaching them to recognize the warning signs so that they can actually intervene on their peers behalf."

They also encourage parents to talk with their children about dating and healthy relationships. The website loveisrespect.org is a great resource. You can visit the TESSA offices as well. They're open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. at 435 Gold Pass Heights on the campus of the Myron Straton Home.

If the situation is urgent, call TESSA's 24-hour crisis hotline at 719-633-3819.


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