February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), a national effort to help raise awareness about teen dating violence. Throughout the month, Empower Yolo and other organizations nationwide are coming together to highlight the need to educate young people about dating violence, teach healthy relationship skills and prevent the cycle of abuse.  Dating violence is more common than people think, and girls are particularly vulnerable to experiencing violence in their relationships. One in three girls in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence; see www.loveisrespect.org/pdf/Dating_Abuse_Statistics.pdf.

Teen dating violence is an issue that impacts everyone – teens, their parents, teachers, friends and the whole community.  Together, we can raise the community’s awareness about teen dating violence and promote safe, healthy relationships.

Prevention education is key in raising awareness, and is important to incorporate into secondary school curriculum.  “Prevention education empowers youths to develop awareness, skills, and strategies for developing and maintaining healthy relationships,” says Paola Pretell, Empower Yolo, After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) site coordinator, Woodland High School. “Prevention education guides youths through the process of understanding the root causes of violence and provides alternatives to harmful behaviors. Prevention education is important in a school setting because it contributes to youths’ healthy social and emotional development by supporting self-awareness, relationship skills, self-management, responsible decision-making, and social awareness. By reaching out to school-age youths and empowering them to become voices of change, it is possible to affect real change at a macro level for safer, more peaceful, and healthier communities,” says Pretell.

The ASSETs team continues to provide prevention education through distance learning. Currently, “Our Strength” an eight-week, virtual, prevention education program is being offered to students at Pioneer High and Woodland High School. “The prevention education curriculum consists of topics on how teens can have safe and healthy relationships as well as identifying unsafe/unhealthy relationships,” says Claudia Angel Zaragoza, Empower Yolo, ASSETs site coordinator, Pioneer High School.  “Prevention education efforts can help reduce the possibilities of teenagers facing violence in their personal relationships, and knowing their resources if they ever need help dealing with an unhealthy relationship,” says Zaragoza.

This month the ASSET’s team is launching a virtual TDVAM campaign for Pioneer High and Woodland High School students through the end of February. The campaign will include weekly, virtual workshops, and a fun, month-long meme contest on healthy relationships. The series of workshop topics will include: what is teen dating violence, and definitions of what type of abuses teens may face; what does teen dating violence look like, and warning signs of violence; a creative workshop for teens to express their thoughts and feelings about dating violence; and healthy relationship knowledge and skill building. Resources where students can get help will be provided at every workshop and will be emailed to participants to keep as reference.

The ASSETs team is working hard to support students and keep them engaged through the enduring pandemic. Because all in-person after school activities have now become zoom sessions, ASSETs is experiencing less attendance numbers at a time when students need support more than ever.  “The visibility of our program has become a challenge largely due to the effects of the pandemic and distance learning. We are not alone as many other educational programs are also experiencing this challenge. Students continue to face a number of challenges this year, therefore we are working hard to offer multiple options to engage with students and ensure their awareness of the resources available to them,” says Pretell.

There are several ways the community can help or become involved to help raise awareness during TDVAM: 1) donate any time to our prevention education programs at: empoweryolo.org; 2) wear orange on Tuesday, February 9 in support of #Orange4Love Day to raise awareness about teen dating abuse; 3) become a sponsor for TDVAM for next year to help us reach even more teens. Our ASSETs students will be participating in a month long awareness campaign and meme contest to show their support of healthy relationships and TDVAM.  Follow their efforts on Facebook at @empoweryolo and on Instagram and Twitter @empower_yolo.

“Our local community is an incredibly valuable resource, and we welcome and appreciate their help and collaboration in getting the word out about our programs and events. Parents, caregivers, guardians, family members, and friends can support youths and the future well being of their community by talking to their teens about prevention education and how it may help them develop and maintain healthy relationships in the future. We invite community members to share program information with youths and encourage them to take advantage of events and resources available to them,” says Pretell.

It is important for the community to come together to support our teens, especially during these challenging times.  “The more the community is knowledgeable on how to identify unsafe/unhealthy relationships, the more they can help our teens prevent unsafe/unhealthy relationships. Our prevention education efforts also provide the community with resources to get help with unsafe/unhealthy relationships,” says Zaragoza.

Community support for prevention education can have long-term, positive effects for teens. “If the community comes together to support and engage in TDVAM, youths are more likely to engage and participate in prevention education. TDVAM is not just about increasing awareness about teen dating violence, it is about equipping our youths with the knowledge and skills they will need to establish and nurture healthy relationships throughout their lives. Doing our part to ensure that our youths maintain and experience healthy relationships will make our communities safer and healthier in the future,” says Pretell.

Thank you to Alpha Chi Omega at UC Davis for sponsoring TDVAM and supporting Empower Yolo’s prevention education programs.  We appreciate their support.

For questions about teen dating violence or prevention education please contact: [email protected].

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