Some teens will come to school suffering from a black eye or emotional pain from sexual harassment or domestic violence.
Yet, many school administrators—not to mention teachers, nurses and other school employees—simply don’t know how to deal with it.
In a Ball State University study on teen violence, 76 percent of principals reported they did not have a protocol in their schools to respond to an incident of teen dating violence. But, about 57 percent of school principals said they had assisted a survivor of teen dating violence in the past two years.
Disciplinary action against perpetrators of teen dating violence was sanctioned only by 27 percent of principals. Sadly, preventing and responding to incidents of teen dating violence is not a high priority for most American schools, even though the majority of high schools have assisted survivors.
Our research also found that the majority of school nurses, counselors and principals in the U.S. could not answer most of the basic questions related to teen dating violence. Furthermore, a majority of the schools do not post to their websites information that is easily and publicly available.
Childhood is a time to gain vital skills for survival, and schools provide many of these skills. Students spend a third of their waking hours in school, where a substantial amount of socialization occurs.
Therefore, the time spent by students in school provides a unique opportunity to prevent and reduce youth risk behaviors and the associated unfavorable medical, legal and academic outcomes by skill-based health and physical education, primary care and social service, disciplinary policies, counseling and psychological services, and by maintaining a safe and healthy school environment.
Ample research evidence shows that, in addition to seeking help from parents, students also prefer to seek support from school personnel for issues related to sexuality, dating violence, and relationship and psychological problems. Consider the millions of school kids who seek help from health teachers, school nurses and school counselors for a variety of issues ranging from trivial health needs to serious problems like sexually transmitted diseases.
I am calling on the leaders of our K-12 school systems to come into the 21st century—armed with the information, programs and protocols to help the next generation. Teenagers are a vulnerable and dynamic population going through critical transitions in life with impressionable minds.
Schools have a responsibility for the safety and well-being of adolescents.
Editor’s note: Jagdish Khubchandani is a health science professor at Ball State University.