February Is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TDVAM)

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As soon as Christmas is done, it seems like retail stores can’t wait to fill their shelves with Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. Just take a quick peek at Pinterest to see how many Valentine's Day cards for kids are ready and waiting for the eager crafter! Long line-ups at chocolate stores and card stores abound. We are a society that has really bought into this special day.

Many high schools encourage teens to celebrate by having Valentine’s Day dances and candy-gram deliveries to classrooms. But for some teens entering the world of dating, there is a darker side we need to address in our society: teen dating violence. The statistics are startling. We need to pay attention to the very real challenges that many teens confront when they walk into the very confusing world of dating. 

Here are some recent statistics from two organizations in the US that are working to put an end to teen violence: Break the Cycle and Youth.gov:

  • 1 in 3 high school students have experienced physical or sexual violence (or both) from a dating partner. 
  • Women ages 18 to 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence.
  • Nationwide, youth ages 12 to 19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault.
  • Approximately 10% of adolescents report being the victim of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner during the previous year.

It is also important to realize that the impacts of teen dating violence are very real. As noted by youth.gov:

Girls are particularly vulnerable to experiencing violence in their relationships and are more likely to suffer long-term behavioral and health consequences, including suicide attempts, eating disorders, and drug use.

These statistics are overwhelming and so disheartening. For parents raising teens and young adults, they are downright terrifying. What can we do to break this cycle of abuse? One answer is to educate yourself! What does dating abuse look like? It is important to talk about the various forms of abuse with teens as they enter the dating world and be vigilant to look for signs of it as well.

Here is a comprehensive list of what dating abuse looks like, as compiled by Breakthecycle.org:

  • Physical Abuse: Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, biting, strangling, kicking or using a weapon.
  • Verbal or Emotional Abuse: Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation, or stalking.
  • Sexual Abuse: Any action that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including rape, coercion, or restricting access to birth control.
  • Digital Abuse: Use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass, or threaten a current or ex-dating partner such as demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyber bullying, non-consensual sexting, excessive or threatening texts, or stalking on social media.
  • Stalking: Being repeatedly watched, followed, monitored, or harassed. Stalking can occur online or in person, and may or may not include giving unwanted gifts.
  • Financial Abuse: Exerting power and control over a partner through their finances, including taking or withholding money from a partner, or prohibiting a partner from earning, or spending, their money

In addition to knowing what signs to look for, Loveisrespect.org is an agency that offers a great deal of resources to further this conversation. They offer curriculum for middle schools and high schools. They also offer practical steps on how to get out of abusive situations. 

If you need support, please reach out to someone you trust to talk about this. If you don’t have someone in your community that can help, Love is Respect is a phone call or text away. Please reach out to them:

Text: loveis to 22522

TTY: 1.866.331.8453

Chat: www.loveisrespect.org

You can follow the conversation online by following: 

Break the Cycle: @breakthecycle (instagram)

Love is respect: @loveisrespectofficial  #TDVAM20 (instagram)

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Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Please remove all references to and promotion of Break the Cycle, Youth.gov, and Love is Respect from this article.  These linked organizations/sites do not promote God-honoring views of sexuality.  

One short example that should be clear enough:  From a Break the Cycle article entitled "Real Stories: Having a Healthy Hookup":

"So whether it’s because of our hectic schedules from school and work, or because we are trying to find out what we want and don't want in a partner, hookups make a pretty popular choice for people our age. Sometimes we just want to have good, safe fun without the pressure and responsibility of a serious long-term relationship..and guess what? That is fine, normal, and when done the right way, HEALTHY."

Community Builder

Thank you Eric for reading and looking at the resources that are posted here on the Network. When we refer to outside organizations, it's not because we agree with everything that they say, or even that they hold a Christian worldview. However, these particular organizations are doing good work around helping teens recognize warning signs in a relationship that could lead to violence and harm. This information is important for teens (and adults) to know and understand. There is a lot of good and helpful information on these sites. We trust that those who read The Network can use critical thinking to determine what information is most useful, and that which doesn't fit into our Christian context. (We don't need to throw out the baby with the bathwater)

We wish there were many more Christian resources around teen dating violence. Please feel free to share any that you know of.

Hello Bonnie,

I disagree.  The church has no business recommending organizations that hold a fundamentally wicked understanding of human sexuality to guide us in understanding human relationships.  It's not enough to simply hope that people (especially young people) will exercise discretion.  We have no common ground with these organizations in understanding human relationships because they understand human origin and purpose in a fundamentally different way than we do and they have no conception of human relationship with God.  

As for resources, I offer this to start from 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."  What vexing teen dating/relationship questions are we better prepared to answer by using the resources you listed than by turning to God's Word?

Participant

Mr. VanDyken:

You impress me as a thoughtful man who knows Scripture.

Let me invited you to view things from a victim’s viewpoint. Through a victim, I have learned that we all need to be sensitive, first, to where the victim or potential victim is at in his/her relationship with God. Many question "where was God?" "Why did He allow this to be done to me?". (S)he may not be able accept that God loves her/him. Surrounded by people singing praises to God, (s)he might think "if God is so loving and amazing, why do I feel so bad?" Victims may have many questions including "why does God not 'work' for me?" "Where is this peace that Christians talk about?"

These questions can be compounded by the fact that the abuser uses God's Name and Word against her/him, and twists Who He was. Scripture is used to justify the abuse. Victims can take a long time to recognize God's love and the real truth of Scripture.

I invite you to think about how the very resources you are afraid of can be a literal life-line for those being abuse or in danger of being abuse.

Hello Jane.  Please call me Eric, if you’d be willing – no need for the formality :).  Thank you for engaging.  I’m going to begin my response at the tail end of your comment with a theme that comes out in several of your comments: fear.  You err in assuming that I am motivated by fear.  My motivation is not that of fear, but of obedience to God and application of wisdom.  I am under no illusion that covenant children and adults are not inundated with any and all forms of unrighteousness in the world that they must sort through, so no, the church cannot “shield” people from such exposure, per se.  But that is beyond the point of my concern.  The church must the place where we counter those prevailing wicked ideologies, and promoting wicked websites as a resource does not accomplish that. 

 

You list a number of searching and heartfelt questions that a victim of abuse may have.  To be sure, I realize and expect that abuse victims can have many of these questions and more.  But the sites/references in question do nothing to answer those questions.  A pastoral approach must be employed, and the references promoted here have nothing to offer by way of godly counsel.  Absolutely nothing.  That is why I oppose them vigorously.   

Participant

Seriously, this link needs to be taken down. I can’t show this to my youth group leaders, much less my church’s kids – and certainly not my daughter.

I see you're taking requests for better information I'll happily take some time and post those things here, and also as a separate article on the Network to correct this link if it's not taken down. 

Community Builder

I look forward to seeing additional resources about teen dating violence. It's a huge issue and we need to be talking about it. One reason The Network exists is to share resources and discuss common issues, it's a good opportunity. One other resource, that is distinctly Christian and promotes Christian values such as the sanctity of marriage is the program Safe Church recommends for children and youth - Circle of Grace. It's not designed to be a sex education program and may not address dating violence directly, but it goes a long way toward promoting respectful relationships. It emphasizes the sacredness of all relationships as we live with God in our circle of grace. The program provides opportunities for adults, children and youth to interact, to identify and discuss potentially unsafe situations so that children and youth feel prepared to respond.

Please keep this article up.  I do realize that there are those who find some of the websites objectionable and that's understandable.  However the resources posted here are valuable and reasonable in many different ways and it would be a shame to see them removed.

While I completely disagree with the resources that the CRC Safe Church agency is promoting in this article (and I would never encourage my children to go to these websites), I believe this article fits the mission of The Network, which is to provide a place for CRC members to share ideas and resources with others in the wider CRC community. Articles posted here do not necessarily reflect the views of the denomination as a whole (as is clearly the case with this one from Safe Church). And users of The Network are free to share their concerns and engage in dialogue via the Comment Section (as we are now).

Certainly you must agree that there must be boundaries, Dan.  We are members of the body of Christ, after all.  If we can't agree that church agencies, staff, ministries, websites, etc. should not be sending church members (adults and teens) seeking advice on teen relationships to secular websites that openly promote many forms of sexual immorality and base their entire ethic of sex on consent and autonomy, then we have little agreement on what it means to be the body of Christ, set apart to be holy.  The idea of sharing ideas and resources and discussion is not somehow outside the bounds of basic biblical morality.  "We're just discussing" is a cop-out.

Eric, you make a very good point. Let me try to explain this way...

Think of The Network as a church lobby or fellowship area after the church service. Members of the church are talking to each other, discussing various things. Sometimes members will say things that other members don't agree with. They may even contradict Scripture. They might say, "Breakthecycle is a great website for teens," or "I was checking out Loveisrespect and it has some good stuff on there." Should that church member be banned or censored from discussions because of that? Or would it be better for members who are grounded in Scripture to point out the horrible stuff on those websites that promote sexual immorality?

The Network is different than The Banner or the CRC website or the OSJ Facebook pages. Those are all official CRC outlets. The Network is designed as a general, open discussion area.

That said...I will admit that this particular article is different because it was posted by Safe Church, which carries the authority of the denomination. So it would be analogous to the Youth Pastor being the one promoting those sinful websites, while talking to people in the church lobby. In that case it might be time for the church Council to sit down with the Youth Pastor and go over Scriptural truth again.

Participant

Thank you for this illustration Mr. Winiarski. It is helpful in understanding how the church is full of those with different perspectives, and how one might respond in love.

Dan, you are introducing some novel concepts here.  Banned?  Who said anything about banning anyone?  Your stretch shows the weakness of your argument.  No, this situation is not akin to a simple conversation between church members in the lobby where a disagreement arises.  What we have here is a church agency and employees (with the denominational imprimatur) recommending a resource for teen relationships that builds its understanding of relationships on principles of wickedness.  Your past history with having posts or comments removed is coloring your judgment here and placing you on the side of defending promotion of wickedness by the church.  The idea that censorship is universally a bad thing is a worldly and individualistic concept, not a biblical one.  I am very supportive of the free and open exchange of ideas and arguments, but the thought that this exchange of ideas should rightly include church promotion of worldly concepts at odds with scripture is foreign to the witness of the church throughout history.  

Participant

Mr. VanDyken: I have been following this conversation with interest, and offer my comments in humility and sincerity.

I am not sure that Mr. Winiarski is “introducing some novel concepts here.” You, yourself, ask that The Network “remove all references to and promotion of Break the Cycle, Youth.gov, and Love is Respect from this article.” Is this not banning?

I am confused about your statements that "what we have here is a church agency and employees (with the denominational imprimatur) recommending a resource for teen relationships that builds its understanding of relationships on principles of wickedness" and "church promotion of worldly concepts." I cannot find any such recommendation or promotion anywhere in this article; what I find is a link to "some recent statistics from two organizations in the US that are working to put an end to teen violence." Likewise, "a comprehensive list of what dating abuse looks like, as compiled by Breakthecycle.org" is offered. The link to Loveisrespect.org is provided as a place for information on "knowing what signs to look for ... an agency that offers a great deal of resources to further this conversation. ... They also offer practical steps on how to get out of abusive situations." We should be careful not to mislead by interpreting words of others inaccurately.

Sometimes "walking in another’s shoes" can be enlightening. As one who has searched near and far for resources on abuse, sources should as these, filtered through a Biblical lens, are vitally important. Often, unless you are impacted by abuse, you cannot understand the urgent need to find ways to escape or help loved ones who suffer. Abuse is often done in the very name of God; abusers use Scripture to validate his/her abuse. Closing the door on valuable resources can be life-threatening.

I am confused by your comment referring to Mr. Winiarski’s past history: I am not sure of how this fits into this conversation. Questioning the judgment of others without verification is neither helpful nor reflecting of Christ’s love. It can be very disingenuous and harmful to others.

I am glad to see that you are "very supportive of the free and open exchange of ideas and arguments." Such openness can be the beginning of honest and truthful exchanges that offer others the opportunity of expression without fear of judgment. I am thankful that this platform presents such a wonderful opportunity. What I do know for certain is that we can rest in the fact that God sovereignly works everything for the good of His people, including restoring us through the righteousness of His Son. Our righteousness began in Christ and is completed in Christ. Follow Him and pursue it daily.

jae

Hello Jane.  Again, thanks for engaging.  A few notes of response:

1.  If you note carefully, Dan asked “Should that church member be banned?”  Note Dan’s formulation.  He was not speaking about ideas, etc., but people.  That is indeed a novel concept in this conversation.  I have no problem with the idea of banning immorality from Christian sites.  But no one had even hinted at banning a person until Dan introduced the idea. 

2.  As to your confusion about my concern, I’m confused about your confusion.  Safe Church in this instance does not just recommend statistics and lists, but whole websites and organizations.  They even recommend staff from these organizations for counseling: “Love is Respect is a phone call or text away. Please reach out to them.”  They suggest following these organizations on Instagram.  They recommend other resources, including curriculum: “In addition to knowing what signs to look for, Loveisrespect.org is an agency that offers a great deal of resources to further this conversation. They offer curriculum for middle schools and high schools.”  You are mistaken if you believe that Safe Church has simply pointed to a few neutral resources.  Additionally, there is not one hint of reservation expressed about any work or content of these organizations.

3.  As to my reference to Dan’s history, rest assured that I know Dan well enough to make that reference, and he would expect nothing less from me than to be challenged.  He may disagree with me, but he won’t be offended. 

4.  Am I to understand that the CRC has a Director of Safe Church ministry that is ill-equipped to provide lists of what abusive (read: unloving) relationships looks like or what signs to look for?  Does scripture have nothing to say about these things?  Most of the information that is pointed on these sites is actually banal.  We need a secular website to tell our kids that someone stealing their money is wrong?  We need a secular website to tell our kids that hitting a date is wrong?  We need a secular website to tell our kids that forcing sexual activity is wrong?  And here’s the killer aspect: the whole sexual ethic of these sites is built around the ethics of autonomy and consent.  These are not the building blocks of a Christian understanding of sexual and relationship ethics.  The root of the tree is rotten and so will be the fruit.  Our kids are not to be taught that they own their bodies (contra H.C. Q&A 1).  Our kids are not to be taught that consent is the ruling factor guarding sexual contact and activity.  The reality is that these websites are drenched in that rotten ideology from top to bottom. 

 

 

Community Builder

I'll repeat what I said in my first response, which judging from some of the comments doesn't seem to have been heard: "When we refer to outside organizations, it's not because we agree with everything that they say, or even that they hold a Christian worldview. However, these particular organizations are doing good work around helping teens recognize warning signs in a relationship that could lead to violence and harm. This information is important for teens (and adults) to know and understand...  We trust that those who read The Network can use critical thinking to determine what information is most useful, and that which doesn't fit into our Christian context.

I didn't grow up in the CRC, or go to Calvin College, Instead, I met Jesus when I was in high school, at a Young Life camp. I was eager to grow in my faith and went on to Wheaton College. One saying I learned there is, "all truth is God's truth." There is truth to be found in these resources, particularly about paying attention to warning signs, indicators of an abusive relationship. I know many Christian women (and Christian men as well) who have experienced the deep pain of relationship violence; they were unprepared, didn't know what to look for in a healthy relationship, and didn't recognize warning signs. Abuse prevention is part of the mandate of Safe Church Ministry, that's why we share information about how to recognize and prevent abuse. 

Participant

I am wondering if this problem might be better solved by moving past fear. When I think about all of the lessons that our culture is throwing at children, it is very frightening. But keeping kids away from all outside cultural influences isn’t possible. So instead of being afraid of what they are reading and watching, equip them to understand the information they are absorbing.

Messages from secular sources surround us every day. They can seep into our brains without us even knowing that they are there. All of us if we aren’t careful, can mindlessly assimilate bad messages and bad behaviors that lead us down paths we may not even know we are walking. That is why discernment matters. Proverbs 4 warns us about what we fill our minds with. It tells us to guard our hearts and watch what flows from our mouths and which way our eyes look and our feet walk. We could take this to the extreme and say that all secular sources are bad and we shouldn’t read any of them, but that is quite drastic. After all, while there are definitely bad messages that we get from those sources, they can teach us things about the world and about how we treat each other. Secular culture gives us a window into how the world acts, and can even teach us spiritual lessons. Even the apostle Paul, as he was teaching in the city of Athens, used an idol that he had seen in the city as a way to point his listeners to God (Acts 17:22-23). Paul used the culture of the city of Athens to teach about God. We can do the same thing with the culture of our day. It can point us and others to God and it can teach our children lessons about God if we aren’t afraid to ask our children some questions about what they are reading. This may sound like a difficult task, but understanding how to engage with others can help us as we talk to our children about secular information.

Today, youth are bombarded with views of human sexuality that are not God-honoring. How about engaging with youth to help them use real discernment when faced with secular messages? When faced with facts that may not honor God or are evil, it is important to talk that out; explore how the author’s view differs from scripture. Pulling lessons out of secular content can be difficult, but this is where some of the real conversation can happen. Talk about what we will take away from the source and bring with us into our everyday lives. Maybe it will make you pause and consider some aspect of how you are living, either in a positive way or a negative one. Real discernment means talking about ideas like identity, purpose, and belonging; this could be a perfect time to bring scripture back into the conversation and talk about identity, purpose, or belonging from God’s perspective.

Again, let’s move past fear. One can still draw boundaries around what children can take in, but how much better to equip them with some of the skills they will need to be able to engage culture on their own when they are old enough to make their own choices. I encourage you to work with your children and youth and talk to them about what they are seeing. Teach them to discern what they put into their minds, eyes, and ears and what lessons they are living out in their everyday lives. (Thanks to Rev. Dr. Bret Lamsma for many of these thoughts.)

Guide

Thanks Jane, and everyone, for the conversation. Would still love to see more resources shared by those who commented. If you can find Christians who have thoughtfully created resources regarding teen dating violence, with nuanced use of our scriptures, that would be terrific! Would love to see Christians participating in the public sphere on this topic, and preferably would like to see ways it could both be used by Christians, and non-Christians. Perhaps such an article or resource could be titled, "Dating as a Teenager, Finding Love and Respect, hint - it will never Hurt (and its ok not to rush it)". 

Of course, our sexual ethic following after Jesus is (vastly) different, but as Jane said, our teenagers need to process through the secular, and in my opinion, its best that the Christian guides are real people helping them along sort out this world that is full of traps.

Again, would like to see some resources based from scripture, or better, a reformed perspective on dating violence. Feel free to share, if you found some. 

 

Participant

Eric: This website claims to be created from a Reformed perspective. Please be aware that I have not explored all the links on the website.

FamilyFire: From the About webpage - "FamilyFire is a Christian ministry committed to sharing the good news of God's design for relationships, marriage, and parenting. Together, we explore spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy and how the Spirit empowers us to live out our faith in relationships." Categories on this site include Dating, Marriage, Sexuality, and others. This 2015 CRCNA article tells more about this ministry produced by Grand Rapids based Pastor Deb Koster in collaboration with her husband, Pastor Steven. 

 

Community Builder

Thank you Jane. We've been asking for people to post resources from a Christian and/or reformed perspective, so thank you for doing that! 

Community Builder

Thank you everyone for the ongoing feedback on this post. It is clear that we are living in very challenging times as we raise our children. I have 2 teenage girls myself, so the conversation of safety in a relationship is extremely important to me. I have worked hard at insuring that my children have been very connected to their church community as they grow up. I pray that they both are able to form romantic relationships that have God at the centre and that respect is also at the forefront as well. However, I would be naive to think that they will be free from the dangers of an abusive relationship. As a mom, I feel it is my responsibility to talk to my kids about some of these hard issues. In addition, I think it is important that we work with our community to find support. Therefore, in an effort to find more resources for this post, I reached out to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to find out what organizations they turn to for support regarding abuse. They have, what I feel, is an excellent website dedicated to abuse response and prevention. Specific to our conversation, they have a number of resources on Intimate partner violence. I hope this provides you with resources you can share with your own teens, whether it is in your church or in your home.

Community Builder

Hi again! I wanted to just add a couple specific links for you that are from our friends at MCC:

Here is the webpage from MCC's Abuse and Prevention Website that is a list of education and prevention for all ages.

This lists resources for all age groups. However, specific to our conversation on teen dating violence, check out 

Ending Violence in Teen Dating Relationships: A Resource Guide for Parents and Pastors. You can borrow the book online to see if it is a helpful option for the teens you are walking beside.