When Love Hurts: The truth about dating violence

Teen dating violence is more prominent than you may think. Here’s why you should talk to your child about it today.

Jennifer Anne Crecente was the kind of teenager parents dream of. An energetic honour roll student, Jennifer volunteered at a hospital in Austin, Texas and was a fan of the arts. She even acted alongside her father, Drew Crecente, in two musicals at their local arts centre. A loving and open girl, Jennifer was extremely close with her family, often turning to her parents for advice on everything from schoolwork to drugs and even sex.

When she began dating a boy named Justin, everything seemed fine. Soon, however, she began to notice that he seemed troubled. When Justin dropped out of school and was sent to a camp for young offenders, Jennifer told him that she didn’t want to be his girlfriend anymore. A few months later, Justin shot and killed her in a field near her home. Jennifer was 18.

According to The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 21 per cent of high school-aged girls and 10 per cent of boys who date have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of their partner. Unfortunately for Jennifer, this violence ended her life.

Crushed by the horrific loss of his only child, Jennifer’s father devoted his time to researching teen dating violence (TDV). He started Jennifer Ann’s Group (jenniferann.org), to promote awareness of this growing trend and provide help for other parents and teenagers. He didn’t want others to suffer the way Jennifer had.

“I decided I needed to start an organization in her name and in her memory…Part of my frustration, especially at the time [of Jennifer’s death] is that this issue wasn’t on my radar the way it needed to be,” says Crecente.

This intimate type of abuse occurs between two people who are in a close relationship. It can be physical (hitting, punching), emotional (verbal abuse, cruel texts or emails or teasing) or sexual. Stalking is another common form of TDV that can cause anxiety and fear.

According to experts at Child Trends (childtrends.org), a non-profit research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families, teens are more likely to become abusive if they have suffered abuse themselves, have inattentive or harsh parents, abuse substances like alcohol and drugs, are depressed or anxious, live in high-crime neighbourhoods, are antisocial or hang out with other delinquents.

While there’s some education about this topic in schools, Crecente says there’s a major need to make information about TDV more commonplace. “We know to look both ways before we cross the street,” he says. “We don’t know that certain behaviour is unhealthy in a relationship.”

The other problem: parents aren’t talking to their kids. Whether it’s because the kids are unwilling to confide in their parents or because the parents feel too busy for a sit down or aren’t adept at discussing uncomfortable topics, these conversations aren’t happening as often as they should. “If you’re a young person who does not have a prior relationship with which to compare this one, you do not have a way to know what is OK and what isn’t…you can’t turn to your peers because they know as little as you do,” says Crecente. Teens need a trusted adult (be it a parent, school counselor or close family friend) to help guide them through this emotional roller coaster.

Experts from Child Trends suggest talking to your kids about healthy relationships from an early age (in the tweens or even earlier). Discuss traits that make good friends (like empathy, kindness and understanding), and those (like jealousy, being possessive, over critical or demeaning) that are worrying.

Assume a neutral standpoint and don’t personalize it, they say. Avoid ultimatums and extreme statements such as “you can never date.” Another no-no: speaking violently. Don’t raise your voice and never say something like “I’d kill anyone who hurt you.” This could make your child afraid to approach you. It’s also important to look for warning signs and monitor your child’s behaviour and online presence. “Technology has created a new platform for dating violence to occur, and this type of abuse is fairly common,” say the experts. According to Child Trends, between 10 and 25 per cent of dating youth experienced cyber abuse in their relationship.

Come up with a safety word or phrase that your child can say over the phone when she’s in trouble. It can be anything—like popcorn or I found your running shoes. When you hear it, you’ll know she’s in serious trouble and you need to contact the authorities.

Another must: have her memorize the phone numbers of family and friends. Her abuser may take away her phone, but this doesn’t mean she won’t be able to get a hold of another one. Whatever you do, don’t assume you know everything there is to know about your teen. You don’t. And never assume that something like TDV won’t happen to her. Just because you live in a posh neighbourhood and have an honour roll student, doesn’t make her immune.

“I use Jen’s name. I use her image. I use stories about her for people to relate to her,” says Crecente. “For people to see that it does happen. It happens to people’s daughters, their sisters, the girl down the street…she was a real person. And she was just as real and just as strong as your kid.”

Warning signs of an unhealthy relationship may be difficult to detect, say experts from Child Trends. A few things you should watch for include:

• Suspicious bruises
• Lower grades
• Loss of interest in hobbies
• An immediate need to respond to call or texts
• Having a partner who is significantly older (three years or more)

Originally published in INBETWEEN Magazine. August, 2016


Money Sense

Six ways to keep your post-secondary student on a budget.

Heading off to university or college is both exciting and overwhelming. Your baby, the one you coddled and sang to every night, is now a full-fledged adult who’s flown your proverbial nest in search of his own. For many teens, this may be the first time they’ll be responsible for cooking their own meals, getting themselves to class on time and balancing a bank account, let alone figuring out what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives.

Learning how to manage and budget money can be stressful, but it’s essential, says Jason Abbot, certified financial planner and president of wealthdesigns. ca. “The sooner you can teach your teens financial responsibility, the sooner you’re going to equip them for the realities of life,” Abbot says. “Becoming independent and more self-sufficient builds self-esteem and feelings of self-worth and independence.” But with everything, financial literacy comes with a learning curve. They will most certainly make mistakes along the way. And with that in mind, here’s how to know when to step in, how to keep them on track and instil some much needed money sense.

SHOW THEM THE ROPES “Kids don’t need consequences or warnings,” says Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress. “They need skills. Teach them how to budget and let them make mistakes. Tell them the parameters of the funds—how much they get each month and where the money goes. Treat them like the adults they are.” Have them take responsibility for paying for things such as clothes and entertainment so they understand how much they cost, and have them hold on to receipts to keep track of their spending.

START SMALL Figure out how much you’re both able to contribute and where your money will go (i.e. tuition, room and board, books, food and/or entertainment). Depending on finances, your teen can contribute to books, entertainment or rent. “You’re striking a balance between the parents’ ability to provide and the child’s need,” Abbot says. Start off with a slightly lower number than you think she might need, he suggests. If kids get used to having an excess each month, they’ll likely spend it on things they don’t need. If you find the amount isn’t big enough to cover their expenses, you can always increase it.

SET A BUDGET “It doesn’t have to be anything formal,” Abbot says of mapping out a financial plan. Grab a piece of paper and list the income your child can count on from you and the monthly expenses she thinks she should expect. Help her balance one against the other so she has a bit of a cushion just in case.

BEWARE OF PREPAID CARDS They’re easy to get (you don’t have to apply) and they don’t affect your child’s credit rating. However, prepaid cards often have hidden fees, says Abbot, including a 20 per cent service charge for using them in restaurants. Opt for a debit card and place a certain amount in the account each month. This way, you can see where the money is going on the monthly statement and your child can use it more freely. Make sure kids understand how the debit card works because according to a 2012 survey conducted by Capital One and ING DIRECT USA, 24 per cent of teens think debit cards allow them to borrow the bank’s money, not their own.

DON’T BE A HERO When your child makes a mistake—and he will—resist bailing him out. “Kids are young and healthy,” Arnall says. “They are great problem-solvers. They will figure out a way to eat or buy that textbook they absolutely have to have.” Once you bail them out, you’re starting a never-ending cycle and you’re helping to create a financially dysfunctional adult, says Abbot. “If a student has to go without a little bit because they’ve gotten in over their head,” he says, “that’s not such a bad thing.”

TELL THEM TO GET A JOB! Kids who work for their tuition or spending money are more likely to study better, get higher grades and recognize the value of going to class, Abbot says. “Rather than viewing education as a handout, they value it as something they earn.” The harder they work for their money, “the less they will covet the latest jeans or a case of beer for their friends,” says Arnall.

Just make sure they’re not taking on more than they can handle, Abbot says. “At the end of the day, they are going off to school to go to school, not to develop a side job.” If a job proves to be too stressful during term time, have them choose a summer job instead. “All kids should find full-time work in the summer to save for discretionary spending through the school year. No excuses,” Arnall says. “It gives them incentive to work harder the next semester as they don’t want to continue to live on $10 an hour.”

No matter what happens to your child’s finances during that first year (or month), stay strong and keep teaching him the value of being financially responsible. Otherwise, you’ll have to shelve those plans to transform his room into a study. He’ll likely be in it for a long, long time.

The FCAC’s Budget Calculator is a useful online tool.

Originally published in INBETWEEN Magazine.