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Helping Teens Stay Safe in the Dating World

February is Teen Dating Awareness (TeenDV) Month.


According to


“Dating violence is more common than many people think. One in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults. And nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors.”


To talk more about issues facing teens today, we’ve invited Lisa Gaeta, CEO of IMPACT Personal Safety, SoCal, ESD Global Advisory Committee member, and co-author of The Safety Godmothers: The ABCs of Awareness, Boundaries and Confidence for Teens.


Welcome, Lisa!


Q. Why do you think it’s important to have a month dedicated to raising awareness of teen dating violence?


A. I think the average person has no idea how prevalent teen dating violence is. Having a month dedicated to discussions, classes, even memes, helps to raise the awareness. As we’ve seen recently in the Cosby and Weinstein cases, once people realize they are not alone, it’s not their fault, there’s nothing to be ashamed about, that they are able to step up and acknowledge that it happened to them. If we keep the topic in the public eye, people will feel more comfortable to get help and speak up.


Q. In your classes for teens, what verbal and / or physical skills do you teach that are directly related to dating? 




1. We teach the 4Ds of Boundary Setting.


  • Distance: How close am I going to let them get?

  • Dynamics: What is going on with him, with me, and around us?

  • Dissuasion: What can I say (verbal strategies) or do (body language) to get them to leave me alone?

  • Decide: What am I going to do?


2. We practice specific scenarios with familiars;


  • How to say “no”

  • How to ask them to stop touching you

  • Specific scenarios at parties or on dates


3. Familiar Verbal Strategies:


  • Identify the behavior

    • Be specific

    • “Stop touching me” vs. “don’t do that”

  • Make eye contact

    • Don’t glare

    • Don’t demure

  • Congruent body language

    • No Laughing

    • Present yourself as serious

  • Be direct

    • Don’t try to let them down easy

    • Say what you mean

    • Don’t lead them on

    • Be direct


  • Offer an alternative if possible

  • Don’t apologize for your feelings


Q. “NO” is such an important word. What makes it so difficult to say? And why is it so often misunderstood? 


A. From the time we are little, we are reprimanded for saying “no” to people in authority. We are taught that agreeing with and acquiescing to is what “good kids” do, and since we humans want to be loved, those concepts are ingrained in us.


Many of us have also had negative consequences when we have said “no,” so we develop a fear around saying it in any circumstance rather than in specific circumstances. What becomes confusing is setting boundaries with people in authority such as parents or teachers vs peers or someone who is actually preying upon us.


Many of us are also socialized to not “hurt people’s feelings," mostly because we don’t like having our own feelings hurt, but I had this discussion with one of my 8th grade classes today. I asked, “what if you do something that bothers your friends, but no one ever tells you about it because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the group talks about it when you are not around? Would you rather someone you care about have a heart-to-heart with you, or just continue as is with no one telling you the truth?” In every case, they would rather someone be straight up with them.


And finally, a discussion I have in every class when it comes to familiar boundary setting is this: why is it OK for you to be uncomfortable but not OK for the person who is infringing on your boundaries to be uncomfortable?


So, for example, you have a creepy uncle whom you have to see and greet every holiday. You get creeped out by his hugs but you never say anything and you let him hug you, every single time. You are uncomfortable every single time you see this relative. So why is it OK for you to be uncomfortable every single time but it’s not OK for him to be uncomfortable the one time you set the boundary? We hear things like “oh it’s not a big deal, don’t cause a scene, he’s a nice guy,” etc. But if these things were true, then you wouldn’t be feeling creeped out by him. And I promise if he’s doing it to you, he’s doing it to someone else. Someone needs to set a boundary with this person.


One of my students today said she was at a family event this weekend and they took a group picture. Everybody put their arms around each other. She was next to a relative she didn’t really know and felt like his hand was a little too low. It wasn’t on her butt, but too close for comfort. She reached down and moved his hand to the spot she felt most comfortable. He kept his hand there, no one made a comment, and the boundary was set...SIMPLE!!



Q. Do you have any tips for teaching teens to develop a strong, assertive “NO?”


A. Practice. Practice with friends who will support you, practice on strangers by speaking up for yourself in public places, such as restaurants, practice on siblings and even parents. You need to be able to say “no” in many different circumstances, so just practice.


In IMPACT classes, practicing in live scenarios with the padded assailant is why people learn so quickly. When you are adrenalized and then make yourself respond in a specific way, you will remember it similarly to how you remember how to play a sport.


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