February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness month and we are reminded of an alarming statistic: one in three teens in the United States experiences dating violence. This figure, in part, has led the federal government to identify teen dating abuse as a serious public health problem in the United States.

The Ohio Legislature implemented House Bill 19, also known as the Tina Croucher Act, which requires each school district to include teen dating abuse prevention education within its health curriculum for students in grades seven to 12.

Adolescence and young adulthood are important stages in our children’s lives as they represent a period of change in their relationships with peers and potential dating partners. Peers have a powerful effect during this period of change, and as parents, we worry about the potential negative impact that peer pressure has on our children’s self-perception and life choices. Rather than fear the influence of peers, we should leverage this influence to guide teens to promote healthy relationships.   

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among adult victims of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men had already experienced some form of partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17. Early intervention in the form of dating violence prevention education is critical.

A growing trend in teen dating violence prevention outreach is the use of peer education to promote healthy behaviors and discourage unhealthy behaviors in relationships. Teens teaching teens works because young people have greater credibility with their peers than adults and youth are more likely to internalize learning and change their attitudes and behaviors if they believe the educator is similar to them. Additionally, when teens directly contribute to the teaching curriculum, the material continues to be relevant to the challenges they face today.

For 15 years, JFSA’s successful “KNOW ABUSE” teen dating violence prevention outreach has been based on the peer education model. Each year, professional staff and student volunteers work with local public and private high schools to teach students about healthy relationships. In addition, the “KNOW ABUSE” peer leadership institute trains students how to serve as peer leaders in their own school. These embedded advocates of healthy dating relationships work to leverage peer power in a positive way.

If your teen is interested in joining “KNOW ABUSE,” contact Leah Weiss Caruso at 216-378-3431 or kacoord@jfsa-cleveland.org.

Ginny Galili is executive director, families at risk services of Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland in Beachwood.

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