February 2011 has been a great month for teen dating violence awareness. I am so glad to see more television programs, whether talk shows or regular entertainment, have addressed the issue of abuse in some way. I’ll admit, a little shamefully, that I watch Desperate Housewives. I guess you can say I watch it out of habit more than anything being that the show usually has unimportant storylines, meant for pure entertainment value. However, this week’s episode sent chills down my spine.
Gabrielle Solis, a housewife who had left a modeling career behind seeks therapy for the abuse she had suffered as a child. Her therapist advises her to confront her abuser who is now dead by going to his grave. When Gabrielle goes to her hometown she finds that her anger is directed towards another person who wasn’t her abuser. She confronts a teacher, who is also a nun, about her past. As a child, Gabrielle had confided in this teacher and told her about the abuse she suffered. The teacher had told her that she had a wild imagination and hadn’t done anything about it. Gabrielle ends the conversation by saying, ‘Shame on you, because you were the adult.’ Gabrielle believed that as an adult it was the teacher’s responsibility to stop the abuse, but she didn’t live up to her responsibility.
This episode made me think about our responsibilities as adults and community members. What do we do to help children who are in abusive relationships? Are we propagating a culture of abuse for the next generation? In the talk show, ‘The Talk,’ Dr. Phil said that one of the reasons we are facing high numbers of teen dating violence is that children today are exposed to more violence and sex on TV. Yes, some of the responsibility of this lies in the parents, but how much of it is our fault on the whole? Do we take responsibility for what we are doing?
An article I was reading a few months ago made me think the same way. The article informed readers that Disney’s ‘Tangled’ was the last princess movie for the company. The reason was that girls over the age of 8 are no longer interested in princesses, rather more interested in acting like teenagers. The article didn’t explicitly say it, but I’m assuming the next Disney movies will be geared towards the changing attitude of children. Girls are acting and dressing more grown up. When they act and dress older, all future experiences in their lives are sped up. They enter the dating scene sooner and by default, their exposure to abusive relationships starts sooner.
Not having any control over media content, our responsibility comes down to two things; vigilance, and education. We have to observe the young people we are around, be mindful of any warning signs of violence, and educate them. We have to talk about violence and make sure they know we are responsible for their safety and will not dismiss their concerns. How adults react to children and their abuse can affect their entire lives so we have to act now, when data is just starting to rise on tween and teen dating violence, to end the culture of abuse from gaining momentum.