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That’s Not Cool: Talking to Kids about Abuse

March 18, 2010

Recently, I wrote wondering about how we might go about teaching kids and teens about healthy relationships, how to recognize when someone isn’t treating them right, and what to do about it.  And then, like magic, QueenGeorge appeared to let me know about That’s Not Cool, a site marketed to teens that tries to make talking about harassment, stalking and abuse as fun and interactive as facebooking.

The choose-your-own-adventure-esque style of the videos makes them fun, and cuts down a little on the potential after-school-special vibe.  The thing that I really like about the site, though, is that it’s not just aimed at teaching kids (or, more often, girls) how not to be victims; it’s also deliberately concerned with showing kids (often, boys) why they shouldn’t be harassers, abusers or stalkers.  For example, here’s the other video from the “Two-Sided Story” about Pic Pressure:

As feminists, we spend a lot of time asking why there isn’t more done to educate young men about why they shouldn’t choose to use violence and control in relationships, so it’s nice to see some effort in that direction.

Beyond the videos, That’s Not Cool has other features to conveniently interface with social networking sites, like “Callout Cards” that you can share on your friends’ profiles to make them aware, in the snarkiest tone possible, of how their creepy behaviors–from stalking to “textual harassment”–make you feel.  Interestingly, while some of the Callout Cards are refreshingly direct, others seem more interested in maintaining the requisite teen sarcasm (which, as Babette Reeves points out, not everyone will “get”) than actually making a strong point about the unacceptability of someone’s behavior:

Of course, posting something like this on your friend’s profile might be helpful if you’re in the early stages of a generally abusive or controlling relationship, but if the behavior has already escalated at all, such a jokey way of approaching it seems to me to be ill-advised.  And the cognitive dissonance of the whole thing becomes even greater when, after navigating the That’s Not Cool site a bit, you notice that the actual “Need Help?” section of the website dives right into direct discussion of both emotional and physical abuse, and offers a PDF of tips that are actually detailed instructions on how to run away from an abuser.  This is important information to have, of course, but it’s a little odd that we jump from “Dude, ur txting is like totally lame” to “Here’s what you should make sure to bring with you in case you need to leave your batterer.”

I suppose I wish that the rest of the site had something to say about violence and psychological control, since these are–as the “Help” section quietly acknowledges–realities for many teenagers.  It would be less fun to talk about, and probably result in less snarky Callout Cards and YouTube videos, but talking about it is still crucial.  Moreover, while the rest of the site does a good job offering advice on how not to be a harasser/stalker, the most direct statement about not being an abuser is “If you truly care for someone, you will not allow him or her to be abused, by you or anyone else,” (emphasis mine) which is exactly the sort of passive-voice, it-just-happened-construction that really gets under my skin.

While I’m grateful for what That’s Not Cool is attempting to do in terms of starting a conversation, I’m afraid that it’s only that: a start–and in some respects, a pretty weak one.  Hiding direct talk about abuse behind everything else, I’m afraid, only serves to perpetuate the idea that being abused is shameful, and something that no one should discuss in public.  Of course, if it helps a few teenagers to recognize and speak up against the moments when they’re being mistreated by friends or significant others, that seems worthwhile.  So, what say you, readers?  Helpful or not?  What kinds of Callout Cards would you like to see?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2010 7:37 pm

    This is awesome. I work as a therapist at a domestic violence center, and also do DV/healthy relationship education. It’s so important to teach teens about healthy/unhealthy relationships, especially because those first relationships are often so intense. And now that social media is involved, it can abuse to a whole new level.

    I wrote a post about teen dating violence here, that includes some more resources, as well as information about how teen abuse and adult abuse can vary.

    Thanks for this post.

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      March 21, 2010 8:08 pm

      Britni, thanks, and your post is awesome! I’m a volunteer at my local DV center as well, and we talk a lot about how to share this kind of information with teens. We have a dedicated staff member who does a great job doing the same kind of education work that you do–but she’s only one person, so it’s good to know that there are others out there working on this (in addition to the online resources that, hopefully, are reaching kids too).

      I think your post’s discussion of teens’ vulnerability to abuse as a result of their inexperience, isolation from adults, and experience of feeling romantically for the first time is spot-on. The abusive relationship that I discuss in my previous post began when I was only 18, and I think the fact that I just didn’t know how to recognize when something was wrong played a huge part in it.

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