Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Be aware of teen dating violence

February 19, 2014

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. To empower young people and improve awareness I searched my database for questions on this important topic.

Q.This is really hard. My mom had abusive relationships most of her life, and I’ve had two. I’m not a kid anymore. I found the strength and support I needed to get away from my abuser, but not before my children lived through the same childhood I did. I’m with a good guy now, but it’s only been three years. Now my daughter is 14 and I’m terrified. I’m worried she’ll be attracted to “bad boys” just like her dad and my other past abusive relationship. Right now she doesn’t date. I talk with her about my life. I’m real up front. I’m not sure she hears me. She listens to you. Can you please help me help her?

Mother of 14-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: How fortunate your daughter is to have you as a parent! Your honesty and courage model a way to move beyond your family’s history.

Let’s talk about your fears. Parenting can be frightening. Protecting our children is a great parenting goal. In your situation, you’re worried for the future. She’s not involved with anyone, but your concern makes sense. You followed your mom’s path; what if she patterns herself after you?

I recently learned a new term for “role model.” Laverne Cox, an actress on “Orange is the New Black,” shared in an interview that she considered herself a “possibility model.” I really like the concept. As a concerned parent, you are a possibility model for your children. You’re communicating with your daughter. You’re modeling a healthy relationship now. You’re vigilant, aware of the risks and willing to stay involved in your daughter’s life.

Here are some hints for helping young people avoid dating abuse:

• Educate yourself and your daughter about dating violence. “Love is Respect” is the tagline for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month ( Go online with her and explore ways you can advocate for healthy teen relationships.

• Explain that dating and sexual violence are about power and control.

• Challenge stereotypes about dating.

• Model healthy relationships – not just with a partner, but with friends and family.

• Talk about the difference between unhealthy and healthy relationships.

• Keep an ongoing discussion about relationships by using teachable moments on TV, in movies and online.

• Respect yourself, your children and others.

• Support your local domestic violence center. In Washington County, Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern PA ( can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 724-223-9190 or 1-800-791-4000.

• Be aware of the 10 common abusive behaviors:

1. Checking a cell phone or email without permission

2. Constantly putting a person down

3. Extreme jealousy or insecurity

4. Explosive temper

5. Isolating a person from family or friends

6. Making false accusations

7. Mood swings

8. Physically hurting in any way

9. Possessiveness

10. Telling a person what to do

Your daughter is old enough to become a peer educator. Let’s meet for coffee and discuss ways you both can become involved in advocating for healthy teen relationships.

Q.I know this guy whose girlfriend is really abusive. People think only girls can be hurt. How do I help my friend figure things out?


Mary Jo’s response: Anyone can be abused. Assuming only women can be hurt reinforces a stereotype. Abuse is about power. Dating abuse doesn’t discriminate – an individual can be abused regardless of gender, sexual identity, economic status, race, ethnicity or religion.

Talk with a parent or trusted adult and share your concern. Don’t try to help your friend alone. I’ll be happy to meet with you both. You’re a good friend.



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