Safe Dates: Warning signs to look for in your teen's relationships

CHAFFEE, MO (KFVS) - If you have a teen or pre-teen in your life, these statistics will surprise you.

According to the Safe House for Women in Cape Girardeau, national statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show one in four teens report having been psychologically abused by a dating partner, and one in eight report physical abuse.

That's why the Safe House is teaching a program in local schools called "Safe Dates".

I listened in as a class full of Chaffee 7th graders participated in their fifth week of the eight week program.

"My parents don't know about Elijah. Really, I'm not even allowed to date," says 7th grader Kerri Cannon, reading from a script that plays out in school hallways and on teen cell phones across the Heartland.

But, in this lesson, the story of young love does not have a happy ending.

"He hit her in the left side of her face and gave her a big bruise," Uzziah Beggs explains having played Elijah, the abusive boyfriend in the lesson.

"He was yelling at her, he was hitting her. Another big one is that he convinced her to lie to her parents," explains Safe House Educator Kyle Riddle.

"Safe Dates" is designed to teach young people about the different kinds of dating violence, both physical and psychological.

"Well, I think it really helps us see the boundaries of a safe date and a safe relationship and abusive relationships," student Ronnie Woods said.

This is the second year in a row the Safe Dates program has been taught to 7th graders in Chaffee. And while many of them may be considered too young to date, the adults involved say they are not too young to learn the difference between a good and a bad relationship.

"Right now, they might be dating but it's just going to the movies or talking on the phone. If they learn these different techniques or red flags to look for, then they can use that in the future when they get in these more serious relationships," says teacher Heather Eakin.

It's a lesson parents and grandparents need to learn as well, by looking for some of the signs of an abusive teen relationship.

Centering--When your child makes all plans and decisions based on their dating partner, instead of family or friends.

"I tell Elijah constantly that I love him and that he's the only person I want to be with,"  Kerri reads from her script

"When they're pushing other people away," explains Safe House Educator Mindy Sanders. "Slowly, they've kinda maybe quit doing a certain sport or a certain activity after school."

Controlling--when the dating partner makes every major decision, including clothing choice, social circle, and participation in school and outside activities.

"He was telling her how to do stuff," a classmate adds after listening to the Safe Dates scenario.

"And it's a kind of scary thing," Sanders adds. "Because whenever you're in that relationship for months or years you kind of burn bridges and no one is there for you whenever it does turn into an extremely abusive relationship."

Cyber Abuse--constant calls, texts, and messages to the dating partner, questioning where they are and who they're with.

"When I'm not with him, he calls my cell and texts me every two minutes," Kerri reads.

"If they're getting text messages every two, five, ten minutes, something like that, wanting to know where they're at, who they're hanging out with, what's going on," Riddle says.

The eight-week program is a real life lesson these 12 and 13 year olds take to heart.

I asked Cassy Spane what she learned.

"Not to hit anyone or control anyone," Spane said. They can do whatever they want."

"Hitting," Brayden Glueck responds. "I absolutely hate boys hitting girls. There's just no reason for that."

Safe House educators teach "Safe Dates" in schools across Cape Girardeau and Scott Counties, and are looking to expand to other districts.

For more information, head online to SEMO Safe House.

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