As a parent, we worry about everything. When our children are young we worry about their growth and development, their nutrition, next their performance in school, bullying, making friends, making the team. The list is quite literally endless.

Being a parent is increasingly challenging because our children face so many more challenges than we remember facing as a teen and young adult. Our children practice regular drills to keep them safe from school violence and for the time being are making so many changes in response to the pandemic. When I was in school and had a problem with a peer, I at least had the ability to escape them once the school day was done; through social media bullying and harassment can be inescapable.

Also of concern, social media is a constant barrage of messages and marketing that is influencing and shaping their minds, sometimes for the worse. These are probably obvious concerns we share as parents. How many of us parents are honestly checking in with our children to make sure they are safe in their dating relationship? Are we paying attention to the subtle and sometimes not so subtle clues that there are red flags in our child’s relationship?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, “1 in 11 females and approximately 1 in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the past year. About 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the past year. Twenty-six percent of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18” (Centers for Disease Control, 2021).

Even more shocking than the numbers is the fact that most instances of dating violence are not reported.

I mention this now because February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Being a parent is a huge responsibility and we need to recognize our responsibility to raise our children to engage in healthy relationships. Teen dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors that one person will use to gain and maintain power and control over their dating partner. These behaviors can include physical violence, sexual violence, verbal aggression, mental/emotional abuse, digital abuse, and stalking. Dating violence is nondiscriminatory, so it can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender, social status, financial status, etc., and it is much more common than you think. If we don’t teach them what a healthy partner is, who do we think will?

CASA is here to help parents feel prepared to talk about healthy relationships. From 6-7 p.m. Feb. 23, we invite parents, grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents, and the like to join us virtually for our informational event, Teen Dating Violence: It Can Happen to Anyone, for an hour of knowledge to give you the confidence to talk to your teen about dating. Just log on to www.zoom.us on your computer or through the Zoom app on your phone or mobile device. Enter the meeting ID: 309 761 1910 and passcode: CASA4teens

In order to prevent teen dating violence and intimate partner violence, the Citrus County Abuse Shelter Association Inc. (CASA) has adopted a healthy relationships and communication curriculum that is facilitated in high schools, middle schools and elementary Schools by our Primary Prevention Advocate. Prevention is any action or strategy that will ultimately prevent someone from becoming a perpetrator or a victim of dating violence. This is an eight session curriculum that only takes about an hour of time per session and is taught to classes of all sizes. It involves group discussions, games, inclusive activities, and it is developmentally appropriate, which means the information can be adapted to meet the capabilities and maturity of different age groups. It is not just a curriculum for dating relationships; the information is good for all relationships.

We also offer free training to coaches of youth and high school sports who are interested in implementing the programs, Coaching Boys into Men and Athletes as Leaders. These two programs are designed for coaches to be able to talk to their teams about communication, boundaries, and respect both on and off the field. The reason this program targets athletes is because they come from many social circles and the information and values that this program will instill will trickle down through the youths’ social circles and friends.

CASA also works with community partners to discuss prevention strategies and take action to involve the youth of our community in local events. We have participated in several teen-

focused events such as Cinderella’s Closet, Teen Town Hall, Friday Night Done Right, and more. Our outreach office also provides one-on-one services with teens and caregivers, such as crisis counseling, court advocacy, injunction assistance, referrals, etc. Teens can receive most of the same services that we offer adults.

Teen dating violence is dangerous and prevalent, but it can be prevented. If you are interested in implementing our curriculum into your classroom, youth group or organization, or if you would like to attend a coaches training, please contact our Primary Prevention Advocate Jessica Monaghen at 352-344-8111 or by email jess@casafl.org

If you or someone you know is experiencing dating violence or intimate partner violence commonly known as domestic violence, please contact our 24-hour hotline, 352-344-8111. For more information about teen dating violence, visit www.casafl.org and follow us on Instagram, @casacitrus4teens.

Sunshine Arnold is CASA CEO. Jessica Monaghen, CASA primary prevention advocate, also contributed to the column.