The greatest gift we can give our youths is a simple message: You are the master of yourself — who you are and who you become — and you teach people how to treat you. Spread the word to youths: “i own me.”
The “I own me” effort is a social marketing campaign created by the emerging advertising professionals of Ad2 Tampa Bay, who remember what it was like to be a teen in this social-media-driven age. The Spring of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's only certified domestic violence prevention and emergency shelter agency, was Ad2 Tampa Bay’s client for this project.
Each year, Ad2 Tampa Bay prepares a free public service campaign for a community nonprofit to give back to the community, and this year the company chose teen dating violence as its project, with The Spring of Tampa Bay and six local domestic violence shelters as collaborators. The hope is that the campaign will be embraced throughout the state, promoted by all 42 domestic violence shelters.
The other collaborative partners for “i own me” include:
- CASA, St Petersburg
- The Haven of R.C.S., Clearwater, Sunrise Domestic and Sexual Violence Shelter (East Pasco)
- Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program of West Pasco
- Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center, Sarasota County
- Hope Family Services, Manatee County
- Peace River Center Domestic Violence Shelter, Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties
You may contact any of the organizations listed above for information or to get help. Also, each of these organizations is always in need of donations and fundraising. Please visit their websites for contact information.
Abuse Can Seem Subtle but Lead to Danger
I recently interviewed Brenda Rouse, director of communications of The Spring of Tampa Bay, who described how abuse begins in a relationship. According to Rouse, abuse begins as a situation in which one person in a relationship does not honor and respect the personal boundaries of the other person. Boundaries are critical; these are the rules a person establishes for him or herself and how he or she wants and expects to be treated.
Rouse gives an example: “If I were a teenage girl, my boundaries could include how late at night you can call me on the phone, the words I allow you to use when you speak to me, the pet names you give me, and even whether or not you display affection to me in the halls at school. Violate these boundaries, and it’s abusive. These personal boundaries are often violated before physical violence and sexual abuse begins.”
Rouse explains that teaching young women how to recognize, establish and enforce their personal boundaries is becoming much more difficult in this age of cellphones, Skype and Facebook and Internet communications. Rouse said that many girls who have been abused will tell you that the problem often begins when young men expect girls to answer calls and respond to text messages on a 24-hour cycle. There is no allowable downtime for communication.
"There was a time when we helped girls establish these boundaries much more effectively,” Rouse said. “Of course, we remember rules and curfews and date night protocols, but we used to be much more involved in helping girls around the area of communication. For example, there was a time when a house had one phone. It was in the kitchen and fastened to the wall. It may have had a long cord, but that cord didn’t extend very far out of the range of family members. A girl arguing with her boyfriend would have family aware of a problem. If a young man called after 11 p.m., Dad often answered the phone and advised that the time was improper and to not do it again — or else!”
Today, with access to cellphones, girls get calls all night long and are expected to be available to take calls or texts whenever the ringtone sounds. Her family may not know she is up all night responding to calls or if she is arguing with friends or boyfriends over things she doesn’t want to do.
Rouse said, “It is easier for kids today to plan ‘skip days’ by texting meeting places to embark on a rendezvous. My daughter could be planning or arguing with her boyfriend as she sits in the front seat of my car as I drive her to school. All I hear is the clicking of her keyboard. No facial cues, no vocal intonations, no indicators at all for me to figure out something is not quite right.”
How to Help Youths Develop Safe Boundaries
The most important thing adults can do is to teach youths the importance of boundaries. Let them know it is acceptable to say no if they are asked to do something they do not want to do. It is OK to not answer the phone if they are occupied with something else or if they just do not want to answer it. It is important for youths to inform people in their lives that they will not be treated a certain way or called certain names.
“One way we can reinforce this is of course to model this behavior and not take calls from clients or co-workers during dinner and practice healthy boundaries ourselves,” Rouse said. “For middle schoolers and younger teens, I strongly encourage turning in all cellphones during homework time and at an established bedtime hour to get them accustomed to being offline for short periods. All phones go in a basket and are returned in the morning. Laptops and computers that allow Skype and even email should also be turned in or the router disconnected to disallow access to the Internet. This sounds harsh, but it’s today’s version of a dad picking up the phone and bellowing, ‘Who is this? Do you know what time it is?’ ”
Get Teens Involved
Teens can take the pledge "to demand respect from my boyfriend or girlfriend. I expect to be treated properly by establishing personal boundaries and to be honored in my decisions concerning privacy, sex, and affection. I will not tolerate being physically, verbally, or emotionally hurt" by visiting www.iown.me. They also can like the "i own me" Facebook page and follow "i own me" on Twitter.
Why Preventing Teen Violence Is Important
According to studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, Journal of the American Medical Association and by other researchers:
- About 1 in 4 teens report verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse each year.
- About 1 in 11 teens report being a victim of physical dating abuse each year.
- About 1 in 5 teens report being a victim of emotional abuse.
- About 1 in 5 high school girls have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.
- 80 percent of teens regard verbal abuse as a serious issue for their age group.
- 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or otherwise physically hurt by his or her partner.
- About 72 percent of students in 8th and 9th grade report “dating.”
- By the time they are in high school, 54 percent of students report dating violence among their peers.
- Nearly 80 percent of girls who have been physically abused in their dating relationships continue to date their abuser.
- Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
- Almost 70 percent of young women who have been raped knew their rapist either as a boyfriend, friend or casual acquaintance.
- Teen dating abuse most often takes place in the home of one of the partners.
The overall occurrence of dating violence is higher among black students (13.9 percent) than Hispanic students (9.3 percent) or white students (7.0 percent), according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.