This guest blog contains a very personal and cautionary story. I’m grateful to Elin Stebbins Waldal for sharing it with us and for dedicating her life to awareness and prevention of teen dating violence.
I was raised with promise, privilege, love, education and by parents whom modeled a loving union. I was surrounded by adoring siblings and a support system which my own friends claimed to envy—in other words it “shouldn’t” have happened to me. But here is the thing about abuse, it doesn’t care, nor does it discriminate.
I was 17 when I met Derrick and in the beginning he was everything I hoped for—loving, attentive, responsible and polite. I fell in love with him when he was at his best.
He was older, owned a business, lived on his own—all attributes and experiences that served to fuel my own desire for emancipation. When high school ended, rather then head to college, I moved in with him. With bravado and self assurance that only a teenager can claim, I insisted I didn’t need an education; I was ready to live on my own and earn my way. I was majority age and my parents could not force me to change my mind.
The storm of violence that unfolded in the years ahead was hidden from my family. Derrick slowly worked to isolate me from all the people in my life. He made threats of suicide and my own death if I should leave. Those threats chained me to him. In the end I did manage to extract myself from the relationship but not before it nearly cost me my life.
February 28th marked the final day of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month for 2011. But the end of the month doesn’t mean the end of the crusade. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Individuals committed to the cause know that our work requires unwavering dedication 365 days a year. Even though the month ends, the subject, in this case teen dating violence will not.
Teen Dating Violence is the term for abuse in a social, romantic, or intimate relationship among young people. Abuse is a pattern of behavior used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another. The most common ages for young people to experience relationship abuse are 16-24. Sadly, these statistics are creeping younger and younger.
Being trapped inside an abusive relationship at any age is degrading, humiliating, and extremely damaging to one’s self-esteem. When a young person is involved, all those emotions are underscored by their own lack of experience with being intimately involved with another person.
In many instances, girls and boys alike will remain silent for fear of retribution from their abuser. Additionally that silence more times than not also applies to peers and family because they feel they will be judged. The reality is that violence in teen relationships is escalating. Lives have been and will continue to be lost if teens are not educated. Cell phones, email, and social networking sites provide convenient ways for any person to remotely stalk, bully, and ‘sext’ another, making it even more complex for someone who is being victimized to extricate themselves. Clearly we cannot afford one more minute of complacency where the safety of our children is at stake.
I hope that by sharing my own story of survival from the abuse I once suffered that parents of teenagers will awaken to the fact that abuse can happen to anyone. Perhaps they may also recall their own coming of age stories and be reminded of how very fragile that time in life can be.
All parents have a desire to keep their children from harm. At times we want that safety so badly that we convince ourselves that our love is insulation enough to keep them from the cruelty that can and does exist. Love is not enough. The best way to protect our children is to really understand issues which affect their age group; teen dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, stalking, and now cyber and technical abuses. Discuss these topics with your teenagers—read books about these subjects together, watch movies about them together—anything that can help create dialogue about abuse of any kind, chances are if not your own child, someone they know has experienced it and your own child may be desperately in need of someone to speak openly about it with.
Our kids need to feel our unconditional love wrapped around them especially when we are not there. When children feel unconditional love they are far more likely to reach out for the hand of a parent if a relationship takes a turn for the worse.
About the author: Elin Stebbins Waldal is the author of Tornado Warning, A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life . She is an inspirational speaker, writer, and the founder of Girls kNOw More, an organization dedicated to building confidence in middle school girls. She is also a Love Is Not Abuse Coalition California State Action Leader working to pass legislation that would require schools to teach dating violence awareness curriculum. Elin lives in Southern California with her husband Jimmy, three children, and their family dog.