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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month

At ICADV we work to make respectful relationship behavior the easy and expected choice. Take a moment to think about what that means to you. What would that world look like? What does it require of us? We believe that investing our energy, ingenuity, resources and partnerships to promote supported, connected and accountable communities is the necessary strategy for preventing teen dating violence.

Thinking about the distance between the respectful culture that we seek to create and where we are today can feel overwhelming. We are confronted by examples of disrespect, abuse, violence and discrimination every day, in our personal lives, communities, and in the media. The problem is made worse where denials and dishonesty are often the go-to strategies for avoiding accountability for the harms that we do. Young people are growing and learning about acceptable relationship behaviors in communities where multiple forms of abuse are modeled, normalized and tolerated all around them.

Most prevention strategy has focused on educating youth about healthy relationships, and warning them about signs of abuse. These strategies don’t focus on changing culture so much as they focus on helping teens to navigate the problems of our culture. We don’t think that strategy gets us where we need to go because we know that what surrounds us, shapes us.

Even if we equip teens with perfect information about how we think relationships should work, they are less likely to change their behavior when they see disrespectful and abusive behavior as the norm in the places where they live, learn and socialize.

Put another way, when you live in Candyland, eating candy is easy and eating vegetables is hard. Even if you are committed to eating vegetables, candy is still a choice that’s available to you.

Changing culture to prevent violence is a bigger job, but we believe that it is what it will really take to make respectful behavior the easy and expected choice for all of us. The exciting part is that we all have opportunities to influence culture. When we think about teen dating violence prevention narrowly, focused on talking with teens about relationships, we leave the job to parents and professionals who work with young people. When we think about prevention as changing culture to promote safety, stability and nurturance, we all have a role to play.

We believe that teens are in the best position to tell us what they need in their homes, classrooms, hallways, clubs, athletics, congregations and communities to have safe and respectful relationships. We encourage everyone invested in preventing violence to ask the young people in their lives, and to follow their lead. We at ICADV have asked young people from across Indiana about the things that they need to feel safe, stable and nurtured in their lives; we created this infographic to summarize their advice, and to give adults a broad menu of ideas that they can use to help prevent violence in the lives of young people.

And if you are looking for advice about how you can engage the young people in your life in conversations about healthy relationships, we encourage you to visit www.stand4respect.org. This website was curated by ICADV’s teen advisory council and provides youth-centered advice about how adults can have productive conversations with young people about relationships.

Together, we can prevent teen dating violence, and create the conditions where all youth in Indiana can safely grow and thrive.

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