Should teen dating violence curriculum be implemented in Parkland schools? Rachel Farrow shares her thoughts, experiences
By RAINA PAWLOSKI
Special to The Press
At the Sept. 26 school board meeting, Rachel Farrow, a Parkland graduate and mom of a future student, suggested the district implement a teen dating violence and healthy relationship program.
She has been both a professional and personal advocate for prevention of domestic abuse education for about five years.
This is in part due to her own experiences of dating violence when she was in high school.
Farrow spoke with passion, urgency and hope.
She stressed the importance of making kids of all ages aware of the unhealthy and abusive dynamics that can come in young relationships.
Farrow suggested with the proper education, even just one student could be saved from the life-altering experience of a toxic and violent relationship.
Farrow spoke with The Press about dating violence education, helpful organizations, and her own experience.
Asked about the type of educational program she would suggest, Farrow mentioned Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping survivors of domestic abuse and their families.
Having once worked there, Farrow supports Turning Point’s use of a holistic approach to educate students on domestic violence.
“Not every school is dealing with the same things,” she said. “The elephant in the room, the tragedy a lot of students at Parkland right now are experiencing is a lot more of an acute exposure to this than maybe students in another population.”
This tragedy refers to the Sept. 14 deaths of Rosalyn Siobal Glass, 39, of North Catasauqua, and her daughter Rianna Lynn Glass, 16, of Danielsville, allegedly at the hands of Rianna’s ex-boyfriend John D. Bradley, 17, of Schnecksville.
“Having a trained advocate and educator come in and work one on one with students and their classes and talk about it,” Farrow said.
“That’s what a curriculum would look like.”
Farrow was asked the role of schools in dating violence.
Farrow said the most dangerous thing a school can do is stay silent.
The harmful rhetoric of ‘it wouldn’t happen here’ causes a stigma to arise surrounding mental health, and it’s important for schools to recognize that these kinds of relationships are inevitable, no matter how good the school or community is, she explained.
“The No. 1 thing schools can do is plan to break the stigma,” Farrow said.
She also provided some statistics on dating violence.
According to Farrow, one in three women are victims of dating violence and, for those in the LGBTQ community, that number is one in two.
For men, the statistics are lower, but that doesn’t mean they experience dating abuse any less, she noted.
“Often (boys) would not have the language or the tools to identify this is happening to them, or recognize that it was, or feel too ashamed to come forward.” Farrow said.
“It looks like it doesn’t happen nearly as much, even though we know it is.”
While going through her own experience with an abusive partner, Farrow said her “turning point” was realizing she wasn’t alone.
One part of the abusive cycle is love bombing.
This, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the action or practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection, especially in order to influence or manipulate them.”
Farrow said those with low self-esteem can easily be deceived by this and can feel as if they are indebted to their abuser, even after the acts of supposed kindness stop.
What saved her from this cycle, she said, was the existence of the resources she has spent her adult life advocating for.
“Remembering that Turning Point existed, calling, educating myself, and knowing that there is someone there to catch me if I feel like I’m falling,” she said.
“That there is somewhere to go. There is somewhere to feel safe.”
Farrow said the most important thing for teenagers to avoid in a relationship is co-dependency.
Often, young people tend to morph into their significant other, and put their own dreams and aspirations on hold to accommodate their partner due to their infatuation, she explained.
This can lead to isolation, and damage other important relationships between family and friends.
While spending quality time with a significant other is important, neglecting other aspects of your life can foster an unhealthy dynamic between a pair, Farrow explained.
Farrow stressed teens should aspire to “grow individually, together” and encourage each other to have a life outside their relationship.
“If you’re questioning if you’re crazy,” Farrow said, “You’re likely not crazy.”
Questioning one’s relationship is often the first step to getting help.
Stepping outside the situation can also be a helpful tool, she noted.
Farrow shared an anecdote where her friend had described her situation back to her, changing names and some details, to help her see that she was too deep in the relationship to recognize its problems.
“I wouldn’t want this for my friends, for my family,” Farrow said.
“Why am I accepting it for myself?”
When a student is ready to break out, the next step is to find a trusted adult or to make a call to an organization such as Turning Point, Farrow said.
When reporting instances of dating violence, those 14 years and older in Pennsylvania have a right to complete confidentiality, unless it is a situation involving child abuse.
Farrow said this is important for young people to know, as many teens are afraid to speak out in fear of their parents and peers discovering their situation.
Farrow explained why she is so passionate about dating violence prevention.
“I speak out about my story because I want to be the adult I needed when I was younger,” Farrow said. “If my story, if my experience can help change some teen like myself who was feeling scared, feeling alone, and help them know you’re not by yourself.
“Anyone who was able to be a role model for someone before, who got to be what they needed when they were younger, knows that being able to change a life, means the world and more.”
Editor’s note: Raina Pawloski is a Parkland High School student.