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New prevention program targets teen dating violence, signs of dangerous relationships

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 4:36 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A new program taking shape in February to teach teens that love is more than a feeling is grabbing their attention in surprising ways.

It uses videos and online chats to engage teens and get them to talk about dating violence during this awareness month.

While the pandemic made virtual discussions a last resort, they’ve resulted in a positive response from teens. “We adapt,” says Michaela Polewski, the prevention coordinator at Golden House in Green Bay.

Adapting has become the motto for just about everyone and everything during the pandemic, but when Polewski started putting together a teen dating violence prevention program for local schools and youth groups -- all virtual -- she was afraid it just wouldn’t cut it.

Teenagers proved her wrong.

“We have found our teens are hungry to talk about this stuff, and they want this information,” says Polewski.

As prevention coordinator at Golden House, a domestic abuse shelter and program to help survivors, Polewski is focused on stopping the cycle of violence and starting that conversation young.

She’s using powerful videos from a non-profit called One Love, created after family and friends missed signs of violence that led to the 2010 murder of their daughter and friend, Yeardley Love.

“It shows the progression. It shows the start of the relationship when it seems really good and really healthy and how things can amp up and get kind of dangerous,” says Polewski. “But it’s important to see that because pretty often we see the connections being made, like, ‘Oh! I’ve seen something similar to this.’”

To her surprise, Powleski says teens are actually more engaged in conversations about relationships when they’re virtual.

“When you’re sitting in the classroom, there’s no guard, right? You’re vulnerable; you’re right there. But having the screen there can give you a chance to think about what you want to say. You can control your reaction,” adds Polewski.

Because everything is on screens these days, the manner in which she presents these tough topics helps teens relate a little more.

“It’s focusing on technology. One of the videos we use talks about how social media can put a veil over what’s really going on in a relationship, because social media is so prevalent. We live on it daily, all the time, 24 hours a day, so using that and meeting kids where they’re at has been so effective in getting them to analyze their own lives and their own relationships.”

For more information about prevention programs or to use prevention programming where you are, click on the Golden House link.

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