Contributed by: Jilian Quigley, BS – Health Educator & Family Coordinator for SPCC’s TeenAge Parent Support Services (TAPSS) Program
When I walk into a classroom of young brown people, I notice that they notice, that I too, am brown. We sit in class discussing life, as they tell me stories of the trauma they have endured within the 16 years they’ve been on this earth. I suddenly become this big sister, mother figure that tells it like it is, with a dash of sugar on top. They look at me, a stranger yes, but someone who they knew could relate to them. Maybe it’s the ringlets of curls surrounding my large smiling round face. Maybe it was my accent that told them I’m from somewhere else but still young and ‘hip’. I’m old enough to know a thing or two yet young enough for them to understand I was in their shoes just a few years ago.
For two hours we break down why the intersectionalities of who we are, change the way we choose to heal after the trauma we have survived. I’m not just a teacher in my classroom – I am a survivor of trauma, a daughter, a sister. And my religion and my ethnicity are important and should be seen. Being a brown Puerto Rican Catholic woman means something when I’m sick; I drink ginger ale and talk to God before I go to the doctors. It means that when I hurt on the inside I talk to a higher being before I speak up and ask for help. It means ‘what happens in the house stays in the house’. Sometimes it means we wait for a miracle before we tell a soul about our pain.
1. the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
“through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us”
The intersectionalities of a person are important to take into consideration when discussing any topic with youth. Last month (February) happened to be Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This is a topic we know 3 out of 4 parents have never talked to their teens about. Some parents don’t know this is an issue; that 1 out of every 5 tweens (10-12 years old) knows someone in a situation involving domestic violence (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV). When we start to discuss these situations with youth, they start to examine their own family dynamics and how their families handle situations. They ask the “Are we normal?” questions, they see the faults in where someone may have dropped the ball, and they examine the way they handle their own feelings.
I teach Safe Dates, a 10-session curriculum that discusses the components of teen dating violence. I teach this curriculum in the homeless shelters for youth and the correctional facilities for young boys and girls ages 11-17. It is important that I take into account the daily traumas of their present lives, so that I can understand why they may have hit someone, hurt someone, hurt themselves, or allowed themselves to be hurt.
How we love, how we break, how we heal and bounce back, all depend on the journey that came before. Sometimes the journey includes things like generational trauma or unspoken secrets within. Sometimes the journey hits us hard when we’re young. Who we are and where we come from are components of how we handle life when it comes our way. ‘Life coming our way’ also includes talking to our kids about hard topics such as domestic violence. The reason it is hard, is because it takes guts as an adult to say, “Hey, I’m not perfect in how I deal with my feelings but this is what love and respect should look and feel like.”
I know that as an adult, to have any conversations with your youth, takes guts to examine who you are, what are your values and why this conversation is important. Having the conversation with your youth may even trigger some feelings for you. Examine that for yourself and be honest about what’s holding you back from being open and vulnerable with your youth. Keep in mind that where you come from is an important aspect of you, but it doesn’t define you and where you stand. Giving youth some psychological air to open up and speak can transform relationships. Keeping intersectionalities in mind while teaching, healing, listening to others is the first step in creating stronger bonds with people from different walks of life.
If you are an adult reading this, you may feel as if I didn’t give you enough instruction on how to have courage to ask the hard questions and talk with a youth. So, here are some questions you might begin with.
- “What does being respected by others look like to you?” (I make a list of how they feel)
- “Can respect look different to different people?” (ask for examples)
- “How do you give respect to others?” (name different people they respect, ask how they respect each person differently).
Teen Dating Violence starts with crossing small boundaries, from things like isolation (silent treatment) to feelings of jealousy and resentment . When we connect the emotion (the list of how they feel), to how we make others feel when we respect them and when we don’t, it helps them make the connection in the moment of adversity. I tell my youth, when they feel like they are being disrespected, “How do you protect yourself from this person emotionally without harming them in the process?” Talking about respect allows for conversation to hover around being disrespected. Talking about (dis)respect allows for youth to have some autonomy over their own feelings and boundaries.
Telling youth that their opinion on how they should be treated is important. It is the first step towards building their confidence. Confidence building in youth will have a ripple effect on all of the relationships they create for the rest of their lives. Their intersectionalities may be a part of which direction their lives go in and how they choose to make decisions. Who I am, where I come from, the way I was taught how to pray, all reflects on how I heal from any trauma I have endured. Knowing that, has helped me practice what I teach.
For more information regarding Teen Domestic Violence please feel free to visit: https://nrcdv.org/dvam/tdvam.