Wednesday October 8, 2008
Staff at the UVa Teen Health Center are gearing up for their biennial Teen Culture Conference, an opportunity to tackle some of the major issues facing teens today.
They say they're hoping to open some eyes on statistics, like the fact that one in three girls will find herself in an abusive relationship.
"When I asked kids about that stat I say, 'do you think that's realistic?' And they say,'uh-huh,'" explains Mary Sullivan, the Teen Pregnancy and STD Prevention Coordinator at the UVa Teen Health Center. "When I share that with parents the response, not always but often, is, 'kids are too young to be involved in either a physically or an emotionally abusive relationship.'"
Sullivan works with teens everyday and says a big part of the problem is that parents don't know how to help their teens.
She offers three keys for parents:
1) Know your teen
Sullivan says if you know your child inside and out, you won't have any trouble realizing a change in mood or behavior. Those changes often can be indicators that there's a problem.
2) Ask questions
She says sometimes there are tough questions you may not feel comfortable asking, but a good parent will go ahead and ask them anyway.
3) Be sympathetic
If your teen is in an abusive relationship, Sullivan says you may not like the answers to some of the questions you're asking. No matter what those answers are, she says your child needs your support, not your criticism.
"It's a real fine line for parents," Sullivan explains. "You need to learn how to let them solve certain problems on their own and not intervene even if you know that it's going to be painful for them. On the other hand, there are certainly situations where they need your support and intervention and that can be really tough."
Sullivan adds this isn't just a high school problem. The UVa Teen Health Center provides service to patients age 12-21.
For more information on some of the issues facing teens, visit the UVa Teen Health Center Web site at http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/teen-health/.
If you'd like to attend Monday's Teen Culture Conference, go to http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/teen-health/tccbrochure.pdf.