“Tweens and Teens talk with me about peer pressure at their schools. They have shared how their ‘boyfriends pressure them into doing things they don’t want to do’ and how sometimes they ‘don’t feel safe with their boyfriends.’”
By Cantor Deborah Jacobson, Temple Ahavat Shalom, Palm Harbor, Florida, Co-chair of JWI’s Youth Committee and member of JWI’s Clergy Taskforce
Last year, I had the privilege of participating in a briefing on Capitol Hill to mark Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month. I was invited to talk about the role that the faith community plays in prevention efforts, and why middle school is a critical age for this type of education. I listened to powerful remarks from government leaders, policy makers, and victims of abuse, and learned about the pervasiveness of the issue: approximately 72% of 8th and 9th graders report “dating” and that dating violence is the rule, not the exception; 1 in 4 adolescents report emotional, physical, or sexual violence each year; 1 in 4 teens in a relationship say they have been called names, harassed or put down by their partner through cell phones and texting.
As a female clergy and mother to two daughters, ages 11 and 15, and as a woman who grew up in an environment where I observed women treated “less than” their male counterparts, I feel a personal mission to help raise a new generation of strong and healthy girls. I have been facilitating JWI’s Strong Girls, Healthy Relationships curriculum with 8th grade girls for the past 5 years. I have become acutely aware of how crucial it is to engage tweens in conversation and knowledge of relationships and healthy dating.
If we don’t talk about these issues, how can we help our girls identify warning signs and prevent dating violence and abuse?
JWI’s program gives girls specific language and awareness of relationship issues, power/control and status. In the program we talk about status and self-esteem and how others impact our self-esteem. Through a variety of creative medium within the curriculum, we engage in conversation about dating, abuse, domestic violence, social media and peer pressure.
In the middle school years and beyond there is so much pressure on our young girls to conform to what is accepted by their peers and the media. There is intense pressure to fit in at any cost.
Tweens and teens talk with me about peer pressure at their schools. They have shared how the “girls who dress sexy, act dumb and needy, get the attention and the cute boys.” They have also shared how their “boyfriends pressure them into doing things they don’t want to do” and how sometimes they “don’t feel safe with their boyfriends.” In participating in the Strong Girls, Healthy Relationships curriculum, the girls are able to gain an invaluable awareness of relationship issues. In one of the exercises the girls walk around the room feeling the terms of “high status” and “low status” as I call them out. We then engage in meaningful conversation about status and self-esteem and how others can impact our self-esteem and what makes a good friend.
As parents, we don’t always know how to best respond to an issue or question and may avoid the subject altogether. We must create open and ongoing channels of communication with our tweens and teens and help them to set appropriate boundaries for their safety. It is crucial that our girls know about boundaries and how to implement them. We have more influence than we think. We must teach our children how to have a healthy relationship and to recognize warning signs when it is not. JWI’s curriculum, “Strong Girls, Healthy Relationships” was written for this purpose of empowering our girls. I am grateful to be able to use it to help prevent teen dating violence and to build healthy relationships.