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The group urges adults to counsel teens during Dating Violence Awareness Month

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – A local group has urged adults to talk to teens about healthy dating habits during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

SOS, Inc., of Emporia, said on Monday, Feb. 20, that unfortunate experiences and dating violence in teen relationships can harm their physical and mental health. Since February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, she said she has joined other organizations across the nation to help teens develop healthy and respectful relationships.

The organization has indicated that parents play a major role in teen dating violence as positive parenting can make a huge difference in how tolerant teens are of unhealthy behaviors. Parents and other influential adults have an impact and can shape healthy relationship behavior.

Of students aged 12 to 18 who have dated, SOS said a national survey found nearly 70 percent had experienced some type of abuse. This could include physical or sexual assault, stalking or even physical assault.

While dating violence happens to teens of all backgrounds, SOS said factors like racism, homophobia, transphobia, ability and more can increase the risk of young people getting into relationships. However, she said that while dating violence is common, early intervention with education and support can change the beliefs and ideas that enable the abuse. A discussion can open the door for teens to identify the healthy behaviors they should be looking for and help them figure out how to recognize the unhealthy ones.

SOS has indicated that if healthy behaviors are taught starting as children, the information can aid in healthy development. For example, she said not forcing kids to hug someone and encouraging them to ask friends if it’s okay to hug them can help them understand their right to make choices about their bodies.

The organization noted that it can be tricky and embarrassing to talk to teens about healthy relationships and dating, however, it’s important for them to build healthy relationship behaviors and help adults identify warning signs of abuse a teen may be experiencing.

SOS said adults can encourage supportive, non-judgmental communication through conversation. Teens are more likely to be open when they aren’t feeling pressured, so listening is important. Open-ended, strategic questions can start the conversation and help validate, empathize, and create a space to feel safe.

The organization has indicated that adults in this situation should believe what is being shared, even if it is hard to hear. Adults and teenagers can also talk about safety and discuss next steps together.

SOS noted that they offer a teen survivor support group at 4:30pm on Tuesdays. Adolescent survivors of sexual abuse or assault, domestic violence, or child abuse or neglect can join the group as leaders use art, games, activities, and more to build post-trauma connections.

If a teen — or anyone else — is experiencing dating violence, SOS said they have a 24-hour helpline at 1-800-825-1295.

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