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High Stakes: Teen Dating Violence

Kelly Wallace is a CBS News Correspondent based in New York.
As a mother of two children under 2 ½, I find myself gravitating towards those stories that could impact my little girls when they grow up. Tonight's report on The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric is one of those stories.

A new survey on teen dating violence and abuse signals what may be a worrisome trend – one in five 13 to 14 year olds say their friends have been punched, kicked, hit or slapped by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Nearly half of all tweens, kids from 11 to 14, say their friends have been verbally abused in a relationship. First, I don't know about you, but when I was 11 or 12, I was still playing school, not dating. Secondly, it is troubling, especially as a parent, to think how many young people appear to be victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse in a relationship. Think of the impact on their lives and on society as a whole if perpetrators of this violence grow up and continue their abusive behaviors.

What keeps me from wanting to lock up my little girls and never let them date are a couple of things. Number one – efforts by April Hightshoe and her daughter Sami. Sami was in an abusive relationship which began when she was 14. The Highshoes are trying to encourage schools all across the country – middle schools and high schools – to teach the warning signs of teen dating violence and abuse. Those warning signs include a change in personality such as nervousness and anxiety around the boyfriend or girlfriend, and controlling behavior by the friend including too-frequent calls (Sami's boyfriend used to call her every five minutes) and domination of free time (Sami couldn't do anything but be with her boyfriend).

After April learned about Sami's abuse, she went on her computer and Googled "teen dating violence." She came upon a Web site sponsored by the women's clothing company, Liz Claiborne Inc., which includes mountains of information about teen dating violence, the warning signs and where tweens, teens and their parents can go for help.

The second thing keeping me somewhat sane about my girls' future is an initiative by the National Association of Attorneys General to encourage every state to add a teen dating violence curriculum to their schools. Maybe by the time my girls are tweens or teens, it will be as a given that teachers talk about what makes a healthy relationship and what makes an abusive one.

The third thing that heartens me is talking to a group of tweens in Washington, D.C., ages 10 to 14, who seem to have such a good heads on their shoulders about what's right and wrong, and the confidence to never allow a boyfriend to mistreat them. I asked them what needs to be done, especially since four out of five of them know someone who has been abused by a boyfriend.

"I think that parents have to be involved in their child's life cause that's how most of this stuff happens when they're not involved," said 14-year-old Taylor Wright.

Teachers also need to wake up, said Kehinde Dosunmu, who's 11. "I think that it's a very difficult topic to talk about and some teachers just don't want to go there," she told me, during a break at summer camp.

They also had profound things to say about why it's so important to have a healthy relationship when you are young. "Sometimes you learn something when you are little and it just sticks, like you learn to write your name," said Caneel Van Nostrand, who's only 10. "And once you get older, you might have a relationship with someone who, it's really dangerous to have, it's not going to be good for you."

So parents and teachers out there pay attention to your kids. The stakes, according to April Hightshoe, couldn't be higher. She believes she almost lost Sami to that abusive boyfriend. "She would have been dead if we hadn't stepped in when we did, I really truly believe everything that he was doing to her, that she wouldn't be here today," said April, fighting back tears. "It's the worse guilt any parent can ever have, not protecting your children."

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