How to talk to your kids about teen dating violence

Domestic violence still common in school
Posted at 6:26 PM, Mar 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-30 18:26:28-04

After school shooting across the country, people have been talking about how to make schools safer, whether it's adding more school resource officers or metal detectors. One nurse and professor from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing hope the recent shooting at a Maryland high school draws attention to another issue: teen dating violence. 

"Dating violence is as much a part of school safety as is some of the other things we are talking about," Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell said. 

Campbell is a leader in domestic violence research. She said around a quarter of teens say they have been abusive to a partner or experienced abuse from a partner. She said that though teen dating violence is common, murder is very unusual. Still, it happens. 

17-year-old Austin Rollins shot and killed his ex-girlfriend in the halls of their high school 10 days ago. 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey was laid to rest today after being taken off of life support. 

"My daughter was hurt by a boy who shot her in the had, and took everything from our lives," her mom Melissa Willey said in a news conference last week.

Campbell said identifying relationship red flags early can save lives. 

"It's just like so sad that no one apparently recognized just how desperate that kid was," Campbell said. 

She said two factors can make an abusive relationship even more dangerous: if the victim leaves the abuser and if the abuser has access to a gun. 

"It's a very scary combination," Campbell said. 

Rollins used his dad's gun to carry out the attack. Campbell said that should be a warning to all parents: keep your guns locked up and keys hidden from kids. 

"They are very curious about guns," Campbell said. 

She said kids also need help. These are their first relationships and they need to know about dating violence and how to fix it. 

"Parents can help kids understand what is a healthy relationship, how to have a healthy relationship, how to treat each other with respect," Campbell said. 

She said prevention programs should be required in all high schools. And more: kids who have had traumatic experiences (being abused, seeing abuse growing up, seeing a lot of violence in the community) need special attention. 

Even things like art classes can help the healing process. 

"Through art or through music or through theater experiences, because those kind of things can also be incredibly useful for healing," Campbell said. "Unfortunately one of the things that’s happened in a lot of our schools, is those activities have been often times taken out due to budget things."

She encourages parents to talk to a school counselor if they are worried about their kids. She also recommends parents us the myPlan app with their kids. It was created by her colleague at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. It teaches about relationship abuse and red flags to help with safety decisions if you or someone you know is experiencing partner violence.