Rantoul eighth-graders learning to spot bad behavior in 'Dating 101'

Rantoul eighth-graders learning to spot bad behavior in 'Dating 101'

RANTOUL — Dating is not like reading Consumer Reports, where you can sniff out a lemon ahead of time.

It's not like buying a car or a television. There are no guarantees or warnings.

It's even more difficult for young people who are dating for the first time. That's why Kellie Wahl, a physical-education teacher at Rantoul's J.W. Eater Junior High, leads a class for eighth-graders that she calls "Dating 101." Her mission: to alert students of potential bad behavior and warning signs.

"As you grow up, you need to understand, especially when you're in public settings or social settings with somebody, a lot of times, people forget the niceties and the courtesies nowadays," Wahl said.

In other words, they don't know how to treat people. And it can be a boy mistreating a girl or vice versa.

The eighth-graders compiled a list of what they thought were good or healthy and bad or unhealthy traits in a relationship.

The good: the ability to communicate, trust, spending time together, spending time with friends and family together, honesty, listening, standing up for each other, not pressuring one another and showing support.

The bad: physical violence, controlling, swearing, cheating, being possessive, drug and alcohol addiction, forcing you to do things, yelling, jealousy, pressure, spreading rumors about you, exposing secrets and private intimate moments, lying.

"These warning signs should go off in your head and cause you to say, 'Is this relationship right for me?'" Wahl said.

Signs of trouble

Wahl showed the eighth-graders three videos. In the first one, the girl in the relationship said she and her boyfriend were happy at first, but then things changed.

He began to isolate her from her friends. He started blaming her for "every little thing."

"He started getting jealous of all my friends," the girl said. "When I tried to break up with him, he threatened me. Things started to get physical."

For another couple, it was the girl who exhibited unhealthy behavior.

"She would always talk down on me," the boy said. "Whenever I was away, she was constantly checking up on me. She even kept me away from my family."

Wahl said one in three high school students has been or will be involved in an abusive relationship. One in 10 teens has been hit or verbally abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

"If you have experienced any of this, tell someone, whether a parent, other adult or friend," Wahl said.

In another video, a teen said it was love at first sight. But then "things kind of started," the boy said. "I had an instant gut feeling that she was not good for me. I did not listen to that gut feeling," and that was his first mistake.

A girl in a bad relationship told a counselor her boyfriend "started telling me what I could or couldn't wear."

"He would text me all the time asking where I was," she said.

There was verbal abuse, and the girl allowed her boyfriend "to walk all over" her. There was pressure for sex and comments like, "You'll wind up just like your mother — cleaning houses."

'I felt stuck'

A boy in a bad relationship said, "I thought stereotypically that the men were the abusers and the women were the victims. I never thought about teens. I felt stuck. I felt like I didn't have a voice."

Said Wahl: "I'm here to tell all of you ladies that in some form or fashion in any relationship that you're in," if you come in contact with the above type of behavior, be aware.

It might not mean they are with an abuser, but they might be in an unhealthy relationship, "and it means that you might be with a person that (doesn't treat you right) ... that you shouldn't be with, and you should move on," Wahl said.

She asked the students to write down who they would fight for.

"When it came down to it, and you had to protect somebody, who would you fight for?" Wahl said. "Or who would you go to bat for?"

Wahl then asked if any of them wrote that they would fight for themselves. None of them did.

"As you move forward, that's what the focus should be on," Wahl said. "Out of all the people you would fight for, if you are unwilling to fight for yourself, ... if you don't have any identity and you don't know what you want and you don't care for yourself, then you're not going to be able to fight for somebody else."

Projecting confidence

Rantoul City Schools School Resource Officer Matt Bross said that when talk turns to "self defense," it always goes to the physical realm.

"Nobody ever thinks about the mental aspect of self defense," Bross said.

Many times, he said, people can talk themselves into or out of a physical situation easily.

"You say no. You say no again. When they still pressure you, you walk away," Bross said.

Many times, body posture is a good deterrent.

"You can stand up, have your head up, shoulders back. Make yourself appear bigger than you are," Bross said. "It's just what I tell people, 'You can fake it till you make it.' You can appear a lot more confident than you are."

Bross reviewed Illinois law regarding domestic violence. Under the zero-tolerance policy, police are required to take someone into custody if it has been determined domestic violence has occurred. Unlawful restraint — not allowing a person to leave — is also a common occurrence and is an "automatic felony" in Illinois.

Bross said many domestic abusers often have "that typical bullying personality."

One local case turned deadly when a couple "in a not-so-good relationship" kept calling police after fights.

"It just continued to evolve until it became so violent ... that she actually ended up bludgeoning the other person to death," Bross said. "There were some mental health issues."

'Very informational'

Eighth-grader Miradi Ndumbi said the class provided valuable insight.

"It was very informational," she said. "I learned how to act in relationships. I learned how to know what to do when those things (happen). I learned how to help people when those things happened to me."

Ndumbi said she knows what stands out in terms of the do's and don'ts in a relationship.

"When they start to put you down or like hit you or like say things about you that you know are not true, that's when it's like you should stop being with that person," she said. "You should not be with that person.

"You can't trust that person anymore. You shouldn't have gave your trust to that person."

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.

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