Why? Because a lot of these girls have a caretaker kind of personality—they’ve got this I-can-help-you feeling. And the abusive young man really plays on that. He tells her things like, ‘You’re the only one who can help me; you’re the only one who understands.’
The other reason they’re vulnerable—and this shocked me—is that even these high-achieving girls are still falling for the media message that you’ve got to have a boyfriend to survive. I see lots of them turning their backs on achievement and career, and being more interested in getting married and having a baby.
Actually, any teenage girl is vulnerable to dating violence, if only because this boy represents one of her first experiences with dating. So she really doesn’t know better, and often she’s flattered by his possessiveness and attention. Many girls read jealousy as love. What we’re trying to do is get them to see that this kind of behavior is not healthy.
Honest talk about abusive behavior
It’s hard to get people talking about dating violence. They really don’t want to believe something terrible like that could happen to their daughters—to their families. They always come up with some reason why a victim is different from their daughter. I’ve been successful at getting people to listen because I’m so ordinary—there’s nothing unusual about my family. The more they hear stories like mine, the less they discount this as an issue.
I think parents should talk to girls before they start dating. I didn’t talk to my daughter. I didn’t realize the dangers out there. Show her this article, talk to her about it. I have parents who’ve gone to their school board and asked to have me speak. The more we can talk about it, the better.
If you as a mom ever experienced an abusive dating relationship or you had a friend who did, share that information with your daughter. Confiding in her allows her to see you as a real person. And anything that opens up the lines of communication is good.
The problem, of course, is that many girls won’t talk with their parents, or won’t tell them certain things. Violent relationships are one thing they usually won’t talk about. The girls I interviewed described their sense of shame and failure, especially if they knew their parents didn’t like the guy. To have to admit that their parents were right, that they need help, it’s one of the last things they’ll feel comfortable doing.
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