The numbers are staggering and widely unknown by most parents: one in three 14-year-olds has experienced physical, sexual or psychological abuse within a dating relationship, rising to 44 percent by the time American young people graduate from college. Teen dating violence (TDV) is a topic that parents must discuss with their children, yet many parents neglect to have this conversation because they do not believe that TDV is a widespread problem – or that it does not apply to their children.
“I knew to talk with Jen about alcohol, drugs, sex and all those other parenting talks, but I never knew I had to teach her about dating violence,” said Drew Crecente, whose 18-year-old daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. “I did not realize that it was such a pervasive issue at such a young age.”
In fact, 81 percent of parents either do not believe that TDV is a problem – or do not know if it is a problem or not.
In an effort to combat this epidemic, Crecente founded Jennifer Ann’s Group to increase awareness about teen dating violence, as well as provide educational information to help teens, tweens, and young adults identify and avoid abusive relationships through free educational video games.
“Parents have a largely underrated influence in preventing TDV, and it begins with a sit-down conversation, but knowing what to say and how to say it is also important,” says Crecente.
- Encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection. Talk openly with your teen about healthy relationships. Allow them to articulate his or her values and expectations for healthy relationships. Rather than dismissing ideas as wrong, encourage debate, which helps young people come to his or her own understanding.
- Be sensitive and firm. Parenting a teen is not an easy task, especially when it comes to helping him or her navigate their way through relationships. To be effective, you will need to find the balance between being sensitive and firm. Try to adapt to the changes faced by your child. Be willing to talk openly and respect differences of opinion. Realize that the decisions you make will sometimes be unpopular with your teen – that’s okay.
- Understand teen development. Adolescence is all about experimentation. From mood swings to risk taking, “normal teenage behavior” can appear anything-but-normal. New research, however, reveals that brain development during these formative years play a significant role in young teen’s personality and actions. Knowing what’s “normal” is critical to helping you better understand and guide young people.
- Understand the pressure and the risk teen’s face. Preteens and young teens face new and increasing pressures about sex, substance abuse and dating. Time and time again, young teens express their desire to have parents/role models take the time to listen to them and help them think through the situations they face – be that person!
- Take a clear stand. Make sure young teen knows how you feel about disrespect, use of abusive or inappropriate language, controlling behavior or any forms of violence.
- Make the most of “teachable moments”. Use video games, TV episodes, movies, music lyrics, news, community events or the experiences of friends to discuss healthy and unhealthy relationships.
- Discuss how to be an ‘upstander’. Teach teens how to stand-up for friends when he or she observes unhealthy treatment of his or her peers.
- Accentuate the positive. Conversations about relationships do not need to focus solely on risky behavior or negative consequences. Conversations should also address factors that promote healthy adolescent development and relationships.
- Be an active participant in your young teen’s life. Explore ways to know more about your teen’s friends and interests. Find activities you can do together.
- Be prepared to make mistakes. You will make mistakes. Accept that you will make mistakes, but continue to help teens make responsible choices while trying to maintain that delicate balance of being sensitive, yet firm.
Recognizing the importance of having this discussion is an important first step, Jennifer Ann’s Group has been producing video games about teen dating violence for this purpose since 2008. All of their digital games are free, engaging and effective; the ideal solution for parents ready to tackle this important topic with their adolescents.
Currently, the organization is accepting international entries for the Life.Love. Game Design Challenge, providing developers and programmers the opportunity to garner attention and respect from the international gaming community to catapult their careers.
Registration for the contest is now open, and entries are due by June 1, 2016. Winners will receive international recognition, and $11,000 in prizes will be distributed.
How to enter:
Rules, registration, FAQs and previous winners are available at: https://jagga.me/contest
About Jennifer Ann’s Group
Jennifer Ann’s Group is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization preventing teen dating violence through awareness, education, and advocacy. The organization has been instrumental in the passing of legislation mandating teen dating violence awareness in schools and has distributed over a half-million free educational materials to schools, churches, and other organizations throughout the U.S. and U.K. at no cost to the recipients. For more information, visit http://jenniferann.org.
On February 15, 2006, Jennifer Ann Crecente, a high school senior, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Jennifer was an honor roll student in high school, a camp counselor, a hospital volunteer, and participated in community theatre with her dad. Jennifer Ann’s Group is run by her father.