Montgomery teens can learn how to spot unhealthy relationships at dating conference
Teens and adults can gather for a conference next month to learn healthy teen dating behaviors and how to recognize abusive or controlling relationships.
Montgomery County's Domestic Violence Coordinating Council will host the second annual Choose Respect Montgomery teen dating conference from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 9 at Montgomery College's Takoma Park campus.
But the conference is not solely about dating, said Marielsa Bernard, an associate judge for Montgomery County Circuit Court and former chair of the county's domestic violence coordinating council. It's about educating teens and adults about healthy relationships across the board.
"We focused on adolescence as really being a time when teens are learning to make decisions about relationships," Bernard said. "What they're learning now is really going to have an impact on how they treat others during their lifetime."
Teens and pre-teens ages 12 to 18 will break off into age-appropriate seminars to discuss such topics as abuse through technology, identifying flattery as opposed to abuse and aspects of a healthy relationship, said Cindy Mogel, program manager with the domestic violence coordinating council.
Last year, 160 teens and adults attended the conference, Mogel said. Now, 170 teens and adults have already registered, and there's room for 130 more, she said.
"We give teens skills on how they can address dating abuse with their friends," Mogel said. "And we also focus on helping them identify that trusted adult that they can go to if they need assistance or if they have a friend who needs assistance."
Seminars will be taught in both English and Spanish, Mogel said, and attendees will be provided with local, county, national and online resources to learn more about healthy relationships.
Bill Mitchell, president of the Kristin Mitchell Foundation, a Pennsylvania organization that supports educational efforts that raise awareness of unhealthy dating relationships, will speak at the event. Opening the conference will be City at Peace, a youth development organization that uses the performing arts to teach and promote cross-cultural understanding and non-violent conflict resolution.
Respect is the common thread through all the lessons and seminars offered at the conference, Bernard said. Many times, individuals make excuses for controlling behavior that can become violent, she said. Early warning signs of controlling behavior include isolating an individual from family and friends. Teens and adults will learn to identify what this possessive behavior looks like and how to handle the situation.
One in three teens in the United States report has experienced threats of physical or sexual violence, according to Teenage Research Unlimited for Liz Claiborne and Family Violence Prevention Fund in 2009. But 81 percent of parents surveyed either believed teenage domestic violence is not an issue or admit they don't know if it's an issue, according to Family Violence Prevention Fund and Advocates for Youth.
"[Dating violence] really is something that transcends all communities, and we really are hoping to be able to try to really delineate what are the warning signs that you look for," Bernard said.
Unhealthy relationships can often begin at home, she said.
"You learn to parrot the behavior, or to copy the behavior, that you see in your home," Bernard said. "So if you're exposed to domestic violence in your home, many times that gets carried into the relationships you have as a teenager or adult."
The conference will also tap into issues of abuse through technology. Such abuse can include texting a partner frequently to determine where they are, what they are doing and who they are with.
The Domestic Violence Coordinating Council partnered with the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office to bring presentations about teen dating to county middle schools and high schools, Bernard said. Attorneys, prosecutors and others who handle domestic violence cases help give presentations to students. The program began last year and continues to spread.
Choose Respect Montgomery teen dating conference
-Where: Cultural Arts Center, 7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring
-When: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., April 9
-To register, visit http://chooserespect
-For more information, call 240-777-5573
-This is a free event