The month of love is declared Florida Healthy Teen Relationship Month by governor Ron DeSantis.

Recently, I was watching a TV show with my 15-year-old daughter in which the boyfriend of one of the female characters called her a piece of trash (and a bit more). The female character became very depressed, because she believed everything the man told her.

I turned to my daughter and asked her: why is she so depressed? She told me “Mom, what do you mean? Didn’t you see what he called her? She feels awful!” So I asked my daughter… “You think she automatically believed him?” Yes! my daughter replied. “But it is her choice to believe that she is trash or not”, I said. “How do you think she would have felt if her boyfriend called her a duck, or a table? Would she immediately have believed she was a duck or a table?” My daughter looked at me perplexed. My point to her was that this female character, and all of us for that matter, have the power to reject or accept any abuse.”

Abuse is a progression and it’s much easier to stop the moment it starts. If we allow a demeaning comment to slide by, the next time it can escalate to a scream, and from a scream to a push or shove, and from a push to a punch or worse. If abuse is tolerated at any level, you are consenting to that treatment and you are allowing it to escalate. Many adults who are in very toxic relationships can see the progression of their own abuse.

Approximately 9% of high school students reported that they have been hit or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past 12 months. Many cases of teen dating violence goes unreported because teens are afraid to tell their friends and family. How do we teach our youth, many of whom see these behaviors in their own homes, that this is not part of a normal, healthy relationship? How do we teach our youth that they have the power to stop the abuse anytime they choose?

The data tells us that 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from someone they are dating. Many youth express being threatened, controlled or made feel unsafe. They don’t report it because they are afraid it will escalate, or people won’t believe them. Keeping psychological, physical and sexual dating violence to themselves make them more likely to experience depression, anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse, bullying others or considering suicide.

What can we do to prevent teen dating violence?

Education is the tool we can use to combat the continuation of these unhealthy patterns. Emotional literacy through SEL programs is a must. Youth must be taught that even if they see the adult role models around them emotionally abusing, hitting, or threatening each other, this is not okay. The biggest problem with many of our youth is that they see these behaviors at home and T.V. and believe that this acceptable. We must teach our youth that they can break cycles of violence. We must guide them to listen to their inner voice and instincts more. Ask yourself, is this verbal or physical encounter building me up or tearing me down?

As a parent/teacher be a Positive Role Model. If you are the perpetrator or the one taking the abuse, know that most likely your child will grow up to take one of those two roles. There are many places that can help you.

Advocacy – section 1003.42 (2) (n) Florida Statutes, states that mental health and emotional health education and teen dating violence should be part of the education of every child in the state . However, I have interviewed hundreds of youth in our schools throughout Florida and they receive minimal or no information about it. Last week I was in Tallahassee talking to Senators and representatives about making sure that our Florida Statute is executed as it was planned.

Let’s make sure that districts are accountable for implementing emotional literacy in a true universal way, where no child is left behind in the education of the mind. This could happen by implementing a stand-alone class, or that students are required to have a certain number of credits on emotional intelligence before they graduate.

As a psychotherapist I understand that there is no credit more important than this one. After all, in the many years I have practiced psychotherapy, I have never met anyone who came to treatment for problems such as depression, marital or parenting issues because they did not remember their algebra or history facts. Patients do, however, come to treatment for depression, anxiety, or conflicts with their family because they do not have the tools to improve these relationships, the ability to challenge erroneous thoughts, or follow their dreams.

These patients have developed, throughout the years, the wrong thought patterns that have led them to the point of despair. If we teach emotional literacy early on, students will be able to develop the thought patterns needed to deal with any situation successfully and grow up inspired to create the extraordinary life they deserve.

For more information on how to impart emotional learning into your district, contact www.triumphsteps.com or email [email protected]