Lessons for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month #1Thing

By SANDRA GUY

Teenagers are confronting a particularly complicated dating environment – even beyond the usual angst and hormonal changes – as they face today’s #MeToo sensitivities and a renewed debate about traditional masculinity and its ramifications.

The American Psychological Association released its first-ever guidelines in August 2019 for psychologists working with boys and men. The guidelines noted that guys, too, can be hurt by conforming to an ideology that labels them weak when they seek help.

The boys and men are at risk of being labeled with outward-facing issues, such as substance abuse problems, rather than with internalized issues such as depression.

Yet it’s still a problem that boys and men who conform to a hyper-masculine ethic defined by “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence,” the report said.

Fredric Rabinowitz, one of the guidelines’ lead writers and a psychology professor at the University of Redlands in California, told The New York Times that the guidelines aim to help men and boys lead happier, healthier lives.

“We see that men have higher suicide rates, men have more cardiovascular disease and men are lonelier as they get older,” he said in the article. “We’re trying to help men by expanding their emotional repertoire, not trying to take away the strengths that men have.”

The guidelines also cite research showing men die at a younger age than women, partly because of poorer diets and more risky behaviors like smoking, and they commit a majority of the country’s violent crimes, despite their socioeconomic advantages.

That’s why
LoveIsRespect.org, a non-profit that has designated February as “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month,” is running the #1Thing (One Thing or Hashtag One Thing) campaign to meet teens where they are.

“By learning one thing about teen-dating violence and sharing that with a friend, every teen can make a difference,” the organization.
One key to preventing dating violence is to educate young people about relationships, said Alexandra H. Solomon, Ph.D., @AHSolomon, dralexandrasolomon.com/ who
who has just published her second book, “Taking
Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the
Relationship You Want (New Harbinger Publications, 2020),” urging women to find their unique sexual selves.

“We know that girls who grow up watching violence in their homes – for example, if the father abuses the mother – [those girls] are at greater risk,” Solomon said. “Boys who witness violence are more likely to perpetrate violence.”

“This speaks to the importance of doing our own healing work,” she said. “We are not responsible for the traumas we encounter, but we are responsible for our healing. Witnessing abuse can leave us feeling that there are only two roles one can play in a relationship – perpetrator or victim, hurting or being hurt.”

“Breaking the generational patterns is really important,” Solomon said. “The media and our culture perpetuate the idea that ‘might is right.’ It’s part of systemic sexism and racism and leaves people feeling they can’t ask for help.”

Watch for red flags, including:

• A person who can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

“No is a complete sentence,” Solomon said.

“You should be concerned if someone says, ‘We have to fool around. You’ve been teasing me all night. If you don’t put out, I’m going to tell our friends,’” Solomon said.

• A person who is unkind, who see situations as win-lose and/or who have a sense of entitlement.

“Part of the problem is that we socialize girls to put everyone else’s comfort ahead of their own sense of safety and dignity,” Solomon said. “Instead, we must reinforce our girls’ ability to say ‘no’ early and often.”

“I want girls to recognize when their boundaries are being disrespected,” Solomon said. “I want her to be able to say, ‘I’m uncomfortable. I’m going to head out.’”

It’s also important to teach boys that “no” means no.

“They must learn how to read feedback: To ask instead of insist. To read the look on the other person’s face, to be led by empathy,” Solomon said.

“Boys are at risk of feeling they have to be successful with girls to feel worthwhile as guys. They are at risk of basing their self-worth on getting a girl to have sex with them, and to have a girlfriend. It can be an effort to stabilize a shaky sense of self worth.”

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