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Prevention Motivates Organizers of Teen Dating and Healthy Relationships Class

Exodus Housing, which works exclusively with homeless families that have been impacted by domestic violence, has launched a new class series aimed at educating the younger generation about what is and is not acceptable in a relationship.

Eminem's popular song "Love the Way You Lie," featuring Rihanna, hit No. 1 easily when it was released in 2010 and remained on the Billboard charts for 29 weeks. It took home Best Rap Song at the Billboard Music Awards in 2011 and the year prior, the Teen Choice Awards recognized it as Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop track.

That last award may give some parents pause, especially given the song - while arguably raw and effective as an artists' statement about the grown-up topic of domestic violence - was filled with lyrics like this:

Come inside, pick up your bags off the sidewalk

Don't you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk?

Told you this is my fault, look me in the eyeball

Next time I'm pissed, I'll aim my fist at the drywall

Next time? There won't be no next time

I apologize, even though I know it's lies

I'm tired of the games, I just want her back, I know I'm a liar

If she ever tries to f----- leave again, I'm a tie her to the bed

And set this house on fire

For better or worse, impressionable young people are taking their queues from what they see in media and popular culture and developing a distorted idea of what being in an adult relationship is like, said Monica Beard at Exodus Housing in Sumner.

Beard is leading a new class series this month entitled "Teen Dating and Healthy Relationships Class" at the Sumner Library in an effort to give teens good information instead about identifying what is and is not a normal part of a relationship.

Here are a few examples in both cases that Beard shares in the class:

Signs of a Healthy Partner (information provided by SafePlace):

  • Shares in making decisions with you
  • Accepts you for who you are, not for how you look
  • Is able to express anger without being violent or abusive
  • Doesn't expect you to be perfect
  • Takes responsibility for what he/she says and does
  • Accepts when you spent time away with your friends
  • Asks permission before touching you or being sexual
  • Makes and keeps commitments

Red Flag Warnings (Source: Sexual Assault Risk Reduction Curriculum, 2001):

  • Makes you feel like something isn't right
  • Is much older and wants to get to know you
  • Ignores, interrupts or makes fun of you
  • Drinks or uses drugs, and tries to get you to drink or use drugs
  • Wants to be alone too quickly in a relationship
  • Only does what she/he wants
  • Pressures you for sex
  • Makes you feel guilty for saying 'no'

Young people just beginning to date are still developing their own identities, said Robyn DeLorm, Exodus' finance manager. In an effort to make someone like them, they'll often change themselves so much that they become isolated and lose themselves in the process, she said.

Rachael DiCecco, a family service specialist at Exodus said the effort is an attempt to stop teens from entering into situations where they'll need assistance from Exodus later on -- to nip domestic violence in the bud. Most clients at Exodus are older but DiCecco said she also helps a few young people who are barely out of their teenaged years. "It's pretty heartbreaking to see an 18-year-old come in with a couple of kids and already having experienced domestic violence," she said.

Not a Lecture

Though billed as a class, Beard said she strives to make the gathering as interactive as possible and incorporates examples of popular culture, discussions and even role playing during the hour-and-a-half-long session.

In recent sessions, the class began with a viewing of "Love the Way You Lie" to start a discussion about what the song is suggesting; Beard said she lets the participants take the conversation from there.

The class is targeted to teens, but parents and guardians who may have trouble speaking to their teens about these issues are also invited to gather information and tips for broaching the subject at home, Beard said.

If a participant has a particularly sensitive issue he or she would rather not discuss in the group, they are also given several teen dating violence resources to seek additional help.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which is why Exodus has been hosting these classes since the end of January and will continue to do so weekly through the end of the month.

The class takes place each Thursday afternoon at the Sumner Library beginning at 3 p.m. and goes to 4:30 p.m. No pre-registering is required.

The next class is Thursday, Feb. 14.

For more information, contact Beard at 253-862-6808 or monica@ExodusHousing.org.

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