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Kids and Dating
The Pressures Only Seem to Grow
By Elizabeth Bloomfield 

First "loves”. Exploring new attractions to one another. Sorting out feelings that are entirely new a n d c o n f u s i n g. T h e s e circumstances of preteen and teen dating have hardly changed through the decades, but add on a constant bombardment of media and peer pressure and result is younger and younger kids partaking in physically and emotionally risky behavior. This is disturbing because children who delve into intimacy before they are emotionally and mentally ready not only subject themselves to dangerous situations, pregnancy, STD’s, loss of self-esteem and respect, but studies also have shown that the earlier kids start dating, the more their relationships suffer for a lifetime. Kids may develop unhealthy habits and thoughtpatterns that they carry with them throughout their adult life.

 There is a direct correlation between the rise of online socialgroups and the number and ages of kids becoming intimate. Social groups offer less accountability for actions, because kids can interact without the awkwardness of face-to-face and post photos that would not be appropriate for school. Much of today’s current media and movies market to kids and only portray the attractiveness of risky behavior without the realistic consequences. Women are sexual objects, and men are empowered largely through sexual violence and dominance. The internet also offers easy access to adult material, material that children seebefore they have the mental maturity to discern how they themselves should feel about the subject matter. JamieCatlett, our Volunteer Coordinator, who attended a four-day training through The Date Safe Project, to educate youth about dating violence and healthy relationships reports that the average age that children first view pornography is nine years old.

Catlett is now certified to go into schools and present to sixth through twelfth-grade students.For an entire week in March Jamie presented to all four of the high schools in Oceana County and in the month of April has two presentations, one at the Baldwin High School and one a t the Pentwater High School/Middle School.

  "The participation from the students has been overwhelmingly positive. says Jamie Catlett. "They have shown interest in the topic and are eager to talk about their experiences in dating. I have found out that most of the students feel as if they have been "seriously” dating since the age of 13. What I also found is that they also do not feel as if they have been able to discuss relationships with the adults in their lives and instead rely on the information from their peers. Parents and educators often blow off the talks as "just puppy love” or "high school drama,” when in fact they were giving them warning signs of dating violence and unhealthy relationships. Most are also involved in very risky sexual behavior. Talking to them I realize that most consider this behavior as "normal” and even expected. Through this experience I cannot emphasis to parents enough the importance of speaking openly to your teen about relationships, educating them about dating violence and let them know how important and special they are. It is more likely that your teen is involved in a dating violence relationship then experimenting with drugs and alcohol.”

COVE’s overall dating message to kids is to respect yourself, respect others, and work to gain and keep self-confidence to make good decisions. Ask first before becoming intimate. If you aren’t ready to talk about it, you aren’t ready to "do it”. Education is empowerment, such as understanding that oral sex is still sex and can have the same emotional consequences and can transmit STDs. Peers may be misinformed from skewed media representations of sex and sexuality, so Catlett stresses that kids use COVE personal advocates, school counselors, parents, and COVE’s 24-hour Crisis Line (1-800-950-5808) as avenues of support when trying to figure out your relationships or how to intervene when you are concerned about a friend. 

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