An Open Letter to Editor dated January 27, 2022 by Laurie Shiell Smith, Executive Director of the Centre Against Abuse…

February is Teen Dating Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month (TAAP).While the month is targeted towards teens, Centre Against Abuse (CAA) has designed talking points for parents, guardians, teachers, counsellors, youth sports leaders, and youth group leaders. This month is a great time to begin discussions on teen dating abuse by openly talking about the red flags. Red flag warnings can be used to identify dangers in relationships. These unhealthy behaviours warn us that a person is dangerous and alerts us notto proceed with the relationship. Often red flags are ignored because teensare not taught what they are, and how to handle them. Red flags present in avariety of forms and if teens understand that they are danger warnings, andare taught how to best handle them, then we can reduce their involvement in abusive relationships.

Below is a list of red flag behaviours that occur inmany teen relationships. We encourage you to use this list as a conversation starter. Red flags present as:

● Partner always asks where you are and who you are with and tells youwho you can speak with

● Partner asks to see your phone and or deletes things from your phone

● Partner asks for your passwords to your phone and or social media

● Partner creates arguments if you don’t respond to their messages orcalls immediately

● Partner calls you names

● Partner always accuses you of having a relationship with anotherperson

● You’re always apologizing to calm your partner down

● Partner breaks or threatens to break your items

● Partner threatens to harm you or someone you care about

● You hear how your partner abused someone else

● Partner speaks badly about your friends

● Partner tells you not to attend events

● Partner is considerably older than you

● Your relationship is only via social media

● You’re afraid to speak your mind or go against your partner because itwill cause an argument

● Partner monopolizes all your free time and makes you feel guilty forwanting to make plans with your friend

s● Partner threatening to harm themselves if you break up with them

● Partner threatens to leave you if you don’t do what they say

● Partner asks or demands for you to send sexually explicit pictures ofyourself or takes pictures of you without your consent

● Partner buys you things and uses them to justify how they can treatyou how they want

● Partner hits you

CAA encourages all persons to start the conversation by inquiring with teensif they have ever experienced any of the above behaviours or heard or seenthem occur with a friend. A good next step in the conversation can be to askthem how they feel about these behaviours to gauge their response andfurther engage them on the topic. Another conversation point is for you toshare your own experiences as a teen, and how you handled them, whatworked for you, and what didn’t.

Quite often teens mistake these warning signs for love. We must assist themwith understanding that these red flags are key warnings to controlling,jealous, manipulative, isolating and harmful behaviours. Encourage teens toask questions when they feel apprehensive, as this will develop their naturalinstincts towards red flag behaviours.

Also, include in the discussion the importance of choosing respect inrelationships. Self-respect produces self-love, and the sooner this is realised,the sooner we can create a generation that thrives on choosing respect.Respect can be established with others via standards. Standards are rules of behaviours that a person sets for him/her self, such as: “I will not threaten others with harm, and I will not remain in a relationship where I am being threatened or harmed.” These rules identify what a person will or will nottolerate, which creates a blueprint for how people love themselves. If standards are not created and valued by a teen as a representation of who they are, then another person can easily mold them into someone thataccepts less than their worth.

Encourage teens early to love themselves and set standards. Standards can be talked about and established prior to teen years and continue through to adulthood. If you have not discussed standards with your teen, you can usethe above red flag list to start the conversation for establishing standards.