Preventing teen dating violence
By Yvonne Greenberg
SAN DIEGO–With the subject of relationship violence so much in the news recently, it is certainly timely that Dr. Marni Greenberg, Psy.D., an educator and clinician who is currently working with Project SARAH (Stop Abusive Relationships at Home), the domestic violence program of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, will be making a presentation on “Preventing Teen Dating Violence” this Sunday, January 31, at 10:15 am-11:15 am during San Diego’s Community Day of Learning (Yom Limmud).
Yom Limmud, presented by the Agency for Jewish Education, will be held at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, Jacobs Family Campus, at 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla, from 8:15 am -3:15 pm. It will include programs, activities, and movies for individuals ages five and up.
For more information on the Day of Learning, call 858-268-9200. Online registration is available at www.ajesd.org.
In a phone interview, Dr. Greenberg previewed her upcoming talk and answered other questions related to teen dating violence.
1. How, when, and why did you first develop an interest in preventing teen dating violence?
I’ve actually been working with teens and families for several years that started before graduate school, working with at-risk youth, a thing that I continued to do through the years. And I actually just recently began working with Jewish Family Service again. I worked there as an intern in graduate school, and they received a grant for a domestic violence program to focus on this issue of teen dating violence and I was the lucky one to get to work on the educational aspects and also the clinical aspects, and I also actually work with children and teens who have been exposed to domestic violence in their homes. So, although this wasn’t something that I saw myself specifically focusing on, that is what I have been given the opportunity to do at Jewish Family Service.
I think the reason why this grant was developed was because teen dating violence was just as prevalent in the Jewish community as the greater community and I think that is something our community might not realize, that this is something that affects out teens as well, and part of that is I think this is something we just don’t talk about, about healthy relationships and what that looks like, when some one at risk is so deeply into a relationship you don’t really see the warning signs. I’ve become so attracted to this topic and learning about the wall of teen dating violence, there are so many organizations working on this issue and so it has been really exciting to get to meet this community and get to spread this education.
2. What strategies do you recommend for preventing such violence?
I will talk about some of the things that we will talk about at the Day of Learning. A little bit of what we are going to talk about what teen relationship violence is because I’m not sure people really have a clear idea about what that looks like, and we are going to talk about the prevalence, because one in three young adults report knowing a friend or a peer who has received some sort of physical violence. We also have a number that one in five high school girls report seeing abuse by a boyfriend, and I have all kinds of stats like this, and these kind of statistics are actually pretty shocking.
3. Do girls have a history of abusing boyfriends?
Absolutely, actually some of the statistics have historically focused on the abuse of men against women, but certainly there is a greater rise in violence on the side of women, and it is not just romantic relationships, but also friendships and bullying, and I think that all falls under this topic, and there is also women against women. We are going to talk about some of the warning signs that parents, educators, and even teens should be concerned about. And we are also going to talk about talking with your children and your students, and it is actually both very uncomfortable for both parents and for kids because it is just not something they are used to talking about. So, we are going to try to break that barrier, talk about some different tools for how parents can talk to their kids, and also how to understand kind of what they are going through, developmentally and biologically, in order to kind of understand what their barriers might be and why this topic is difficult for them. I would also like to try to do a little bit of a practice dialogue, a little bit interactive, so it is not just me talking at people because I don’t like to do that. I will present a little bit of a video that talks a little bit about teen dating violence in the Jewish community, specifically. It has some girls talking about their experiences of what was expected in their family, about the partner they eventually found, about how pressures really contributed to their wanting to stay in the relationship even when it got dangerous.
4. Do you think such violence has increased both in frequency and severity during the past years?
I can’t really answer that question because I only started getting involved in teen dating violence about August 2009, so because I am not working directly in the youth centers and that kind of thing or collecting the numbers, I don’t know if it has increased.
5. Is there an increased awareness?
I hope so, and I will be working to increase the awareness. I think be invited to speak is huge. It is not just about the kids knowing what to do and what to see, but also those supporting them, their parents and teachers, they need their help, they can’t do it on their own, and one of the big things that we talk to teens about is talk to someone you really trust, you have a relationship with, who can help you. At this age a lot of kids don’t feel like they can talk to the adults around them and don’t feel they will understand, so it is just as much our responsibility to raise the awareness amongst the adults in their lives so they know that they can go to them and they will know how to talk to them about and they won’t minimize the struggles that they are reporting, they will be able to recognize the warning signs instead of someone just struggling and trying to figure out how to be a friend and what their identity is.
6. Do females engage in different kinds of violence than males?
That is a really good question. Actually, there have been studies done on this. The kind of violence that women typically engage in is kind of a more relational kind of violence, things like using jealousy in their relationships, using sabotage, and their social status to impact someone’s lives, so although they are not hitting them or punching them or screaming at them, it is more of trying to make other women feel like they are not as connected to those around them, which for women, especially teenage girls, is one of the most important things in their lives. That is something that has been looked at, so I do think girls have a different way of hurting those around them.
7. Do females engage in different kinds of violence than males?
I am not sure if their physical or verbal looks different, it may. I definitely think it is received in the same way, violence is violence, and no matter how it is dished out, it is I think it is felt the same way. But it is definitely focused more on that kind of relational aspect, especially with teen girls, sabotaging relationships and contributing to other girls’ isolation by feeling their own greater power. I think that women experience their power more, perhaps..
8. Is there any difference in violence of gays and lesbians and Jewish people
or Hispanics, blacks, lower class, poor students, or it doesn’t matter?
or Hispanics, blacks, lower class, poor students, or it doesn’t matter?
That is a good question. Violence in adult relationships and teen relationships actually occurs across the board with similar numbers. The only thing that we could say is there is no typical profile of someone who has violent relationships, however, when there are people who are more upper class and live in bigger houses, I think that is something we don’t see as frequently. Someone who lives in a big house and has a big yard the neighbors aren’t going to hear the violence, they are not going to see it, and typically and when someone is the perpetrator of abuse they are really trying to use their power and control to maintain their relationships, so they really do all they can do to make sure that no one else can find out, which can be very isolating. I think if you live in a more lower class neighborhood or smaller apartment or something like that I think it is easier for people to hear and to see. And typically when someone is being abusive, especially physically, they try to do it in places where people won’t see. So it is something that it won’t come out, they can still use their power and control. So, in all different cultures and communities abuse happens at the same rate, so I think this is a crisis of our knowing how to interact with each other, and knowing what healthy relationships look like and what they don’t look like, and really educating ourselves on what that means, and what we do about it with our teens.
9. Is there a factor of control when the abuser uses it?
Absolutely. When we talk about violent relationships we always talk about the aspects of power and control that abusive relationship isn’t just something where they just get really upset or they were drinking and it was just a one time thing. That may happen sometimes, and certainly alcohol contributes, but there is always this aspect of power and control and we always talk about those topics because that is something that starts more subtly, and as the relationship grows it increases in frequency and severity. There are different ways that someone will assert their power and control over someone else. Those are the two main contexts that underlie and reinforce those relationships.
10. Is the history of an absent parent, history of being a victim of parental or other abuse, is someone more likely to be in an abusive relationship later?
If children are exposed to violence in their relationships as children then studies do show they are more likely to be involved in a violent relationship in the future either as a victim or as an abusive person. If someone learns that someone uses violence or control to get what they want or to work out problems in their relationship that is what they learned as a way of dealing with those things. We try to teach what you do to have a healthy relationship, we are all human and make mistakes and sometimes we hurt the people we love. But how do we work those things through and what do we do in those situations, what different ideas do we have, to expand our toolkit on how to deal with relationships. We are under the impression that they are easy and we all know how to have healthy ones, and they don’t get complicated.
11. Which psychological factors are associated with being a repeat victim of such violence?
If someone has low self-esteem or a history of dependency, isolated from the people that they love, all those kinds of things that can take away someone’s resiliency and can contribute to their ability to get through and out of a relationship. And lot of the things that keep a violent relationship going are the things that make it hard to leave. In addition, something that something people don’t often want to acknowledge is that their love in these relationships. That love just doesn’t disappear when there is abuse. In fact, in the cycle of violence there is always a honeymoon phase which is what creates this aspect of “they are apologizing and they really love me and they really care about me, they say they will never do it again, they say they didn’t mean to do it, it was an accident.” And this phase is what really maintains these relationships, because when you develop something with someone you really believe them, and you love them, and you want to keep that going, so that is something that is very intriguing, it makes it hard to leave. There are also other aspects, other challenges, mental health issues, and or any kinds of disabilities, it makes it really difficult to leave a relationship with somebody that in some ways, you lack the support outside of the relationship, and that is something that happens in the relationships, it is the isolation, which is intended. Having access to those around you, having relationships with your family and loved ones, and knowing that they are there for support, and that is something that a lot of people in relationships lose because they have been so isolated within that relationship. There are different mental health factors and other different factors that contribute to it.
12. What you are telling me seems very important to what is being taught in schools. Do you see any future in that?
Absolutely. I just came from a teen relationship violence parental community yesterday. There were a whole lot of different agencies, different agencies, the legal system.
What we are trying to do is get this education as part of the general curriculum in different schools and I think we have been successful in a lot of ways, and that there also have been barriers that we have had to face. Personally, with my program we have gone out to junior high schools, different congregations, high schools, and we are working with San Diego Jewish Academy to try to create and be part of the curriculum. The schools already have so much that they need to teach that it is hard to fit it in, basically. I think there is an awareness amongst a lot of educators that this is a really important topic, a lot of educators are very passionate about spreading this education, and so that is something that we do really work on in this community. It is not a special interest kind of thing, it is something that affects everyone, and all of our kids in some ways. I think it should be part of general education.
My talk will be for parents and teens and I also wanted to add that educators are welcome and it is very applicable to educators as well. So I just wanted them to know that they can come and that I think it would be helpful for them as well.
Dr. Greenberg graduated with a doctorate in clinical psychology in 2008 from Alliant University/California School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Greenberg his eight years of experience working with children and families in a variety of settings, and she currently works with children and teens who have been exposed to domestic violence in individual and group therapy, and provides educational workshops to the community on teen dating violence, the dynamics of unhealthy relationships, and how to create healthy relationships.
Yvonne Greenberg is a freelance writer based in University City. She isn’t related to Dr. Marni Greenberg