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Engaging parents to support healthy teen relationships and prevent dating violence

Blog post

The Partnership’s January Prevention Peer Network Web Conference focused on engaging parents to support healthy teen relationships and prevent teen dating violence (TDV). The web conference was chock full of information and insights about:

  • Why engaging parents and guardians is important as a component of a comprehensive strategy;
  • What the research tells us about parent knowledge and attitudes about teen relationships and dating violence;
  • How to connect with parent groups and conduct parent education in diverse communities; and,
  • Resources for engaging and educating parents.

We started the web conference by acknowledging that parents and guardians naturally have a powerful influence on their children and have a primary role in supporting healthy teen relationships and preventing dating violence. The research shared by Elin Stebbins Waldal, Author / Speaker / Advocate, made a strong case for bolstering parent engagement efforts.

Facilitators shared suggestions, models, curriculum and resources for connecting with parents and conducting parent education in diverse communities. Just as youth engagement needs to be appropriate to the youth’s age, development and social context, parent engagement is also essentially about “meeting parents where they are.” This can be done by:

  • Asking, rather than assuming, what will be relevant and helpful;
  • Helping parents overcome fear and denial;
  • Making sure the methods and content are culturally and linguistically appropriate;
  • Providing direct education via places of employment, schools, health care settings, and places of worship, as well as book clubs, community organizations, etc; while also,
  • Using social media and technology applications that lend themselves more to privacy;
  • Addressing needs such as transportation, food, childcare, etc.; and,
  • Providing information and resources that help parents feel empowered.

Susan Hess with Echo Parenting and Education suggested that sharing information with parents about adolescent brain development and the importance of empathy is an effective strategy for engagement. When parents understand adolescent brain development, they are often more motivated to initiate conversations about relationships, stress, and decision-making with their teens, and more empathetic in how they approach these conversations.

Tatiana Colon with the Alameda County Public Health Department, Nicole Edwards-Masuda from Family Violence Law Center, and Maricela Gutierrez from the Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, each shared valuable insights from implementing three models of parent engagement: 1) school site workshops; 2) the Dating Matters Program; and, 3) Parent Cafés. The Parent Café model was unique in that it linked parent education to parent organizing and policy advocacy.

Parents are often are the best in engaging other parents, and not surprisingly, many parent engagement models train and pay parents to train other parents. Parents of teens who have experienced TDV, including surviving parents of TDV murder victims can provide powerful perspectives.

Programs that provide more structure, support, and opportunities for parent leadership and ongoing engagement result in greater knowledge and skill building. These programs also lend themselves to greater sustainability, since parents develop supportive relationships and “Confianza” (trust and mutual reciprocity) with each other.

Participants shared lessons and suggestions from experiences in their own communities, such as to:

  • Engage parents on related issues instead of going “head first” with dating abuse, e.g., internet safety, helping their child be a good friend or take a stand against bullying, etc;
  • Engage parents of pre-teens. The Start Strong initiative uses the tag line: “start relating before they start dating”; and,
  • Focus on key moments of heightened parental engagement, e.g., transition time from elementary school to junior high.

Many participants affirmed their interest in continuing to connect and support each other in their parent engagement efforts.

Prevention Peer Network Web Conferences are an interactive opportunity for knowledge sharing and network building among domestic violence (DV) and teen dating violence (TDV) prevention advocates and educators across California. Web conferences use Power Point slides (viewed on your computer using an internet connection), text chats, and a teleconference line to offer participants multiple ways to share and learn together. Prevention Peer Network Web Conferences are offered as a free benefit for members of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.Through the web conferences and other Prevention Peer Network activities, the Partnership is nurturing a vibrant and diverse prevention peer network in California.

Minutes from the web conference and a list of resources can be found on the Prevention Peer Network Web Conference webpage.

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