By Sandra Nevárez García

One in three!  This is the number of youth, throughout the United States, who experience physical, sexual, and emotional abuse while in a dating relationship. These abusive relationships often are unseen or not taken seriously.  As adults our challenge is to listen to young people.

Sandra Nevárez Garcia

Youth may quickly be consumed by this unhealthy relationship.  The constant hovering, urgently responding to every text, sharing their location to prove their whereabouts, and carefully choosing what they post on social media is their reality.

They are trying to avoid triggering a disagreement or a new wave of questioning calls or texts. These are all signs of an unhealthy relationship that does not begin to describe the physical and sexual abuse they are experiencing.

In this age of technology, with its fast pace and instantaneous responses, we often refer to feeling free, connected, and in control of how we express ourselves. These are tools that allow us to engage and interact with the world around us. However, in many young relationships as with adults, these tools become means to track, monitor, and limit youth as they grow, and begin to explore this world of dating.

As parents, teachers, and family members we often dismiss the relationships of young people as “not real.” We often explain that there will be others and that they need to move past their current relationship.  We tend to forget that our emotions and feelings of love do not start at a specific point in our lives, we experience them from a very young age.  There is not a clock that defines relationships after a certain age to be true and valid, so then they can be taken seriously.  

I can never truly understand all the challenges young people face today. I begin to learn by taking time to stop and just listen. I recognize that it may not be my role to fix or offer what I would do in their place, but just listen.  It is my responsibility to listen without redirecting or judging, nor providing all the protections that I would want to as a parent. Instead, I need to just be there and wait to be invited in.

This is an extremely difficult task. One that I have not perfected, but I continue to work on as a mother of two young adults.  We cannot protect our young adults from hardships and painful experiences. We can create environments that foster and encourage a safe space for communication.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.  At the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, we hope to inspire conversations with those young people in your lives.  We want to be able to support our youth as they develop and form experiences in their relationships.

Our Primary Prevention Team, who works with various young people in our community will be hosting events to spark conversations around Teen Dating Violence.  If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship, there is support. Call our Crisis Hopeline at (915) 593-7300 who can connect you with our youth advocate.  To connect with other like-minded young people in our community follow our EmpOURment Project on Instagram.  

Sandra Nevárez García is executive director of El Paso’s Center Against Sexual and Family Violence.