No, it’s not Casual Friday. It’s a Wednesday, April 26, 2011. It's time to throw on a pair of jeans.
Well, ok. Everyday can be a jeans day for some of us, especially us techy shrinks. But Denim Day marks a moment in the calendar year to raise awareness and to educate youth on sexual violence and teen dating abuse. The name comes from a legal case in Italy where a judge overturned a rape conviction because the female victim wore tight jeans to the court hearing.
I am not wearing jeans today. Instead, I dressed up for a luncheon hosted by MomCentral and sponsored by the Start Strong initiative, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in collaboration with the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF). What’s significant about this program is that it is the largest funded national initiative aimed at preventing relationship violence and abuse among young people. Its mission is to promote healthy relationship behaviors – among 11 to 14 year olds.
Teen dating violence is a major problem – and one that can extend into later relationships and have significant consequences for safety and quality of life. Maybe the most startling fact, even for those of us in the mental health profession, are the statistics that as many as 1 in 5 teenage girls and 1 in 10 teen boys have been physically or sexually abused by a partner (Journal of Pediatrics, 2007). A more recent study on 6th graders reveals that half of the youngsters surveyed reported having been in a “dating” relationship and 42% report being victims of “dating” violence (Journal of Early Adolescence, 2009)
Whether you believe the stats or not it doesn’t take much to see that the sexualization of youth and violence in the media is everywhere, providing very poor role models indeed. Compound that with the astonishing rate of cell phone use and texting by tweens and teens today and dating harassment has found a new route.
Start Strong intends to foster a grass roots movement involving all stakeholders: teens, parents, caregivers, educators, healthcare professionals, domestic violence advocates, and community leaders. The goal is to build environments that support healthy relationships and prevent violence and abuse. The gathering today evoked a lively discussion on how to begin a dialog with our children about these tough issues, and importantly, how do we model “healthy“ relationships that our kids keenly observe – in our own homes and with our partners, friends, and co-workers. Are we being mindful of our own relationships?
Next week my 11-year-old daughter will see the movie. She informed me of this recently. I thought out loud: Is the last Harry Potter movie out already? No, Mom, “The Movie!” she motioned with quotation fingers.
Right. THE MOVIE. The 5h grade puberty education session is coming up. I previewed it two years ago when my older daughter endured it (one of my rants). It’s a disappointment: Abstract images of fallopian tubes, a sample of a tampon, and a really corny short film on female anatomy and sweat glands. I suppose, if anything, the disembodied nature of the presentation and the confusion it evokes might spur some parents to provide more clarity on reproductive health and personal hygiene. Some schools are now offering mother-daughter, father-son education sessions.
Now imagine if this 5th grade education went beyond the one hour of puberty education and instead was extended over the course of the semester - and all of middle school years - to embrace what it means to go through puberty, what healthy relationships look like, and how to comfortably navigate the social jungle of adolescence?
Start Strong is pioneering its program in 11 US cities. We can only hope the success is immediate, so that all tweens, families and communities can benefit.
As for me, it’s time to put on some denim and tell my girls why.