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La Casa Inc., 800 S. Walnut St., is all about breaking the cycle of domestic violence, said Pamela Cisneros, event and volunteer manager for the sheltering/education facility.
As one of the most comprehensive domestic violence agencies in the state, one of the focus points is on its youth program, and Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, February, becomes an opportunity to educate.
“Three in four [teens] will experience some form of domestic violence and 89 percent of college students say they are not confident in their ability to recognize the warning signs of dating violence,” Cisneros said. “We want to make sure that not only the parent knows the signs, but that teens know the signs and can call us for help.
“When I was young, everything ended at 3:30 when school was over – now its 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is so much easier for teenager to fall into that, easier to stalk someone,” she said.
Domestic violence cycles go back generations, La Casa Executive Director Henry Brutus said.
“We are doing a lot of outreach in the schools,” he said. “It’s about prevention. We’re doing Zoom this year, focusing it on mostly on the middle schools and high schools.”
He said he usually he can speak one-to-one with the students following presentations at the schools, but because of the pandemic, he won’t be able to do so this year.
“After delivery last year, I had a line of people waiting to talk to me,” he said. “There is definitely interest and need.”
Brutus said he hopes young people will still reach out with questions.
“When it comes to preventing teen dating violence, the ultimate goal is to stop the violence before it even begins,” Cisneros said. “As a result, the most effective prevention begins by educating preteens and young teens about how to form healthy relationships with others. It also involves teaching them important life skills like assertiveness and solid communication skills. They also should learn how to disagree with others in a healthy and respectful way.”
Abuse and bullying in a dating relationship involve more than just hitting, kicking, slapping and punching. In fact, most abusive relationships start out with subtle signs that many teens mistake for love, she said.
The most common warning signs include displaying jealousy, asking for passwords to one's devices or accounts and insisting on spending every free moment together.
To help children understand, parents can initiate conversations about relationships. Use a scene from a movie, an excerpt from a book or a news story to get the conversation started and talk about what is and is not healthy in a relationship.
It also helps if parents don't shy away from difficult topics like sex, Cisneros said. Discuss the importance of respect in a relationship. Make sure your teen knows that they deserve respect. Likewise, they need to be respectful of others.
She said parents can make sure teens know that while disagreements are normal, handling them in an aggressive or disrespectful way is not acceptable. Likewise, violence, abuse, namecalling and sexual bullying are not acceptable.
Equipping teens with the ability to clearly state their feelings, opinions and desires is one of the best things a parent can do, Cisneros said.
Abusive relationships often lead to secrets, she said. For instance, young people often know what is happening is not right, but instead of talking about it, they keep it a secret. Relationships that involve a lot of secrecy usually also contain a lot of other hurtful behaviors like manipulation, she said.
“Any time you recognize small changes in your child's behavior, like a change in mood, sleeping patterns, or eating habits, you should take notice,” Cisneros said. “Even a drop in grades, fewer friends hanging around or dropping a once-favorite sport are causes for concern.”
Often these changes are early warning signs that something is going on in a teen's life that is upsetting them, she added.
“If your teen is being abused, don’t try to handle the situation on your own,” she said. “The most effective plans for getting your daughter or son out of an abusive relationship involves a team of people, including you, a school professional and sometimes even the police.”
Visit www.lacasainc.org. Call 575-526-9513. The 24-hour phone number is 800-376-2272.