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Talking to your teen about safe dating

Riddle Hospital September 8, 2015 General Wellness

Books, class schedules, meal plans, roommates, college visits, extracurricular activities…whether you’re preparing to send your son or daughter back to their final year of college of their first year of high school, there are plenty of tasks on the back-to-school to-do-list.

Amidst the back-to-school buzz, you probably haven’t considered a conversation about safe dating and sexual violence. But, as it turns out, it could be the perfect opportunity. As teenagers and young adults continue to experiment with dating and physical relationships earlier in their adolescence, it’s important for parents to have an open dialogue with their children.

“Parents have a tremendous impact on teaching their children about sexuality and relationships, and what is appropriate and what’s not. They’re responsible for modeling and sharing age-appropriate information that can counter unhealthy norms,” explains Kris Corsi, RN, BSN, coordinator of the Sexual Assault Nursing Examiner (SANE) Program at Riddle Hospital.

Since 1996, Riddle’s SANE Program has provided specialty care for victims of physical, psychological or sexual assault in the emergency department. In addition to caring for victims in the emergency department, Riddle’s nine SANE nurses, including Corsi, work to educate the community on the threat of sexual assault through programs at local colleges that make students more aware of safety issues, such as acquaintance rape, on college campuses.

Although at many of the programs Corsi and her fellow SANE nurses typically speak to a student audience about protecting themselves from sexual assault, she has advice for parents, too:

Talk to your children about healthy behaviors

There are thousands of television shows, commercials, and advertisements that portray positive and negative examples of relationships between couples. Rather than ignoring them, Corsi recommends taking the time to talk about them.

“Look for opportunities to share with your children when you see these things that show positive or negative behavior, and why it was positive or negative,” she says. “Try to stay on track when discussing these issues. Keep it simple and age-appropriate, so you don’t lose the opportunity to talk to them.”

Give them tools to protect themselves

In addition to talking to your child about healthy behaviors and healthy relationships, you can talk to them about ways they can seek help if they feel unsafe in a situation. Thanks to a new batch of downloadable smartphone applications, your child’s phone can now be a safety device.

“Teenagers and young adults have their phones with them all the time, and downloading an app is just another way to help prevent sexual violence and ask for help should they need it,” says Corsi.

She recommends apps like OnWatchOnCampus and Circle of 6, both of which can quickly share your location and a text message notifying pre-selected contacts that you’re in need of help.

Know the warning signs

There are warning signs that your child is or has been a victim of sexual abuse or sexual violence, including depression, drug or alcohol abuse, anxiety, suicide attempts, fear of intimacy or closeness, or eating disorders. As a parent, you are one of the people who know your child best. If you have a concern or instinct that something isn’t right with your child, talk to them. If you feel uncomfortable confronting them, talk to your family doctor or pediatrician.

Corsi admits that talking to your child about sexual violence can be difficult, but says it’s a necessary discussion.

“Talking about the threat of sexual assault and sexual violence isn’t meant to scare parents or children, but to empower them to give their children the tools they need to prevent it,” she says.

If you find yourself a victim of sexual assault or sexual violence, visit your closest emergency room or rape crisis center. In addition to Riddle Hospital's SANE Program, Main Line Health's emergency departments at Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital and Paoli Hospital offer expert, compassionate care in the event of an assault or emergency.