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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Violence in Relationships — Unacceptable

Parents need to model appropriate behavior when their children are young to teach them that violence in relationships is unacceptable.  Parents must counteract the dominant theme in many movies, television shows and pornographic publications which graphically depicts violence toward women.  The “entertainment” media endlessly shriek at us the message that violence is something men do to women and women have to put up with if they want to have or keep a relationship.

It is never too early for parents to begin this instruction and it cannot be left to chance.  Every time violent behavior is shown on television, parents should comment on what is wrong with the message of abuse.  They could also comment on other ways this couple or family could solve their problems without resorting to violence.

Dr. Antonia C. Novello, former Surgeon General said that the home is actually a more dangerous place than the streets for women.  More than a third of the women slain in the US die at the hands of husbands and boyfriends.  Catherine MacKinnon, a professor of  law at the University of Michigan, said that the multimillion-dollar pornography industry promotes the rape and subjugation of women.  She stated that 85% of women in the workplace experienced sexual harassment during their careers and pornography is the major cause of sexual abuse.

Many parents may feel that this topic is not applicable to their family because there is no abuse and the parents respect one another.  This may be true but parents need to be alert to outside influences especially the macho message given to their sons and the submissive message given to their daughters by peers.  In this case, a ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure especially if you can help your daughter recognize and be alert to the macho boyfriend who might involve her in a potentially destructive and dangerous relationship.  Such situations cut across all economic and cultural levels.  All families are potential victims.

Citing national surveys officials at the Jersey Battered Women’s Service say that one in every eight high school women has been subjected to dating violence by the time she graduates.  A Teen-Age Dating Violence Program has been developed and is being presented to adolescents in Morris County.  This program alerts the student to signs of potentially abusive relationships.

The first sign is controlling and isolating behavior.  Her boyfriend forbids her to talk to certain peers.  He decides on their social activities and even might try to control what she wears.  He then may begin to use verbal put-downs and humiliate her.  Threats and intimidations  come next usually followed by sexual or physical abuse.  As in adult domestic violence, the girl usually says: “He’s sorry and says he won’t do it again”.

If you have some sense that your daughter is involved in such a relationship, encourage her to talk to you about it.  Regina Braham, who works with these students, says some teenagers do not want to lose their independence and are afraid their parents will become restrictive if they talk about their problems.  The girls also like the attention they get from having a boyfriend.  Some do not recognize the abuse because they are new to relationships.

The time to talk about what constitutes an abusive relationship is before your sons and daughters become involved in dating.  I encourage you to start such dialogues with you children.


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