Bruises. Emotional scars. Depression. Self-loathing. Black eyes. Shame. Educating about Teen Dating Violence is a messy business. No matter what, no matter how early I catch a child, I still meet victims. They are either secondary victims of domestic violence in their household or they have already been a victim of teen dating violence. The youngest that I spoke with was 10. Her elementary school boyfriend shoved her for talking to her friends at recess instead of him.
I know that the key to ending domestic violence and teen dating violence is combining reaction with pro-action. We, as a society need to provide the means for victims to get safe, get help, and move on. We need to punish abusers with more than a slap on the wrist. We need to educate our teens and children so they know the signs of a potentially harmful relationship. Then they can make safer, stronger, better choices for their future relationships and avoid needing these services at all.
I find myself pondering what parents can do besides educating their children and trying to foster the best possible healthy relationship example at home. So what can we do? What could help? Especially during the holidays, the word that comes to mind for me is compassion. Compassion feeds the soul, saves the heart, and makes life easier for those whom it is given to.
When I was growing up, one of the “requirements” for the holidays was to give to something, someone, somehow. That didn’t mean a friend, family, or spouse. It meant to a shelter, charity, bell ringer, Toys for Tots, or someone else in need. The giving was either in the form of time or money. As a high school student, I enjoyed working with the Festival of Trees and yearly food drives. As I have gotten older, domestic violence shelters, cancer research, and literacy have also become a priority in my gift giving. This “requirement” has become so much more rewarding and something that I look forward to doing every year. It is no longer a requirement but a pleasure and I am grateful to my parents for teaching me this valuable lesson in caring.
Parents can foster compassion in their children in many ways. One of the most vivid for me was being reminded that I was lucky and shouldn’t take for granted, my home, family, or the fact that I had food on the table. What better way to teach compassion than to teach teens and children to give of themselves to others less fortunate. Buying a gift for Toys for Tots was just as important as giving a gift to my grandparents or parents. It is easy, in this day and age to be focused on the latest and greatest technology, music, fashion or fulfilling any other self-want. This is when it becomes even more important to slow down and be grateful for what you already have. Someone will always be in a more difficult situation than you.
Maybe everyone can start a new tradition this year or next. When the holidays come around, find a giving tree, buy a gift for Toys for Tots, or donate your time to a local charity or shelter. Make the gift of compassion and charity just as important as your list of gifts to give to family and friends. You don’t have to save the entire world all at once. But, small steps and efforts can lead to miles of change.
This may not be the single most effective way to end domestic violence or teen dating violence, but I do believe that it factors into being a well-rounded, decent human being. Give to give not just to receive. Give to those less fortunate; give even if it hurts a little. I don’t advocate bankrupting yourself but if you can spare twenty dollars for the bell ringer or charity of your choice, do it. A little self-sacrifice for those in need goes a lot further than 3 lattes for you. It will pay in karma and soul.