The recent story of NFL player Ray Rice hitting his girlfriend really bothered me. I work with so many teenage girls and women in their 20’s that it sickens me to think about how many of them might suffer the same fate. And statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bear out my fears.
About 1/3 US adolescents are victims of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, with 1/4 high school girls being victims of physical or sexual abuse. Girls between the ages of 16-24 have the highest rate of partner violence, and 70% of college students say they have been sexually coerced. And victims of dating violence are at a higher for substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, eating disorders, and further domestic violence. It’s a huge problem that seems to fly under our radar.
One of an adolescent girl’s best protections vs. dating violence has to do with trusting their gut and intuition. Girls tell me that when a guy walks into a party, their radar goes off telling them that he either feels safe or that he seems like a creep. I strongly encourage them to trust that internal alarm. But in order to trust their gut, they have to have the awareness of how it feels when their alarms are going off, notice it, and then respond to it by taking some sort of action to take care of themselves. This is where I worry that girls have ‘lost their guts’.
When I have asked groups of adolescent girls on one of my weekend retreats how many of them take some time regularly to be alone and quiet, the answer I have received in the past 4-5 years has almost universally been none. Zero. And when I ask them why not, the answer is always the same: “There’s no time.” There is no time any more for solitude, reflection, soul-searching, or self-discovery. Particularly during their transformative adolescent years, girls need to go inward to know what you are feeling, know what they need, and to connect with that inner voice or inner knowing that knows the answers to their questions and what is right for them. I want every girl to make decisions out of that place instead of being swayed by external pressures.
I want them to rely on their gut intuition, but in order to do that, you need the awareness first, and that comes from being able and willing to check in with yourself. That’s where girl’s hyper-busy schedules and constant distractions and noise from technologies hurts them most. They are experts at being busy and distracted, but unprepared to be quiet, mindful, and directed inward.
We have a responsibility to teach girls these skills, and it’s best to begin by middle school age, when many of them start to “date”. I will discuss other ways for girls to prevent dating violence in future blogs, but I encourage you to start with this vital piece. Girls haven’t “lost” their guts, they just don’t know how to tune into it.