POMPTON PLAINS Spreading the message that “love is respect” has been a mission for the young people at Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) Parish here as they mark Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, a national effort to raise awareness and protect teens from violence.
Laura Shamber, coordinator of high school youth ministry at OLGC, came across the initiative on social media and shared the message to her teens as an issue to address during the Year of Mercy. Youth ministry members at OLGC, who call themselves LOOP (Living Out Our Purpose), decided to wear the color orange on Feb. 11 at their high schools in solidarity with teens who may have been in this situation and to make their peers more aware about teen dating violence.
Shamber said, “It’s important teens recognize the signs of dating abuse. Sometimes it’s not just physical but also mental and even digital. Because of the access to social media and cell phones, digital abuse is around more than we think. It’s about reminding the teens to respect themselves and who they date.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), statistics for students who date, show that 21 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys reported experiencing physical violence and/or sexual violence from a dating partner in the past 12 months.
High school senior Bill Troast, a member of LOOP, said, “Teens need to know about dating violence because nobody deserves to be in an abusive relationship. Most teens believe abuse only happens in relationships between adults, but this is not true. It can happen at any age, and no matter how old a person is, it’s wrong to be abused by someone who supposedly loves you. It’s not normal for anyone to be put through that and there are no excuses.”
The problem of teen violence can have serious long-term effects and still many teens don’t report it because they are afraid to tell family and friends.
Mckenzie Kennelly, a LOOP member and high school senior, believes teens can help their peers out, who may be in this situation. “Teens can truly help other teens when it comes to dating violence. The support of a peer could be just what the victim needs. They need the confidence and reassurance that they can and will be able to leave the toxic relationship.”
Getting the message out to wear orange, LOOP members informed friends through social media about the campaign and fellow classmates not part of LOOP also participated. This was the case at Pequannock Township High School as students took selfies and posted pictures and messages about the day.
“Through social media, the awareness for teen dating violence gets out in just a few seconds. Within one click, all my followers know that I am an advocate against teen dating violence. I can spread positive messages quickly and to mass amounts of teens,” said Kennelly.
Troast believes more must be done. “Sadly, I realized there isn’t a huge awareness for the topic. A couple of kids in my school started to raise awareness and while there could be more to follow, I believe that in the future this will catch on and dramatically reduce the amount of abusive teenage relationships,” he said.
Throughout the year, LOOP involves itself in many spiritual and social activities ranging from feeding the poor to fasting and Bible studies to mission trips. The orange shirt campaign was a non-gathered youth ministry event that was successful. thanks to the effort of the teens.
“Sometimes relationships don’t work out in the way we want them to. Things can go wrong and possibly feel uncontrollable,” Kennelly said. “Teens have to be aware of teen dating violence because often nobody realizes what happens behind a closed door. Teens need to feel as if they can go to someone, whether it is another teen or an adult, if they are in an abusive relationship. They need to understand that they are not alone.”