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Teens Against Dating Abuse spread the message about dating abuse to ‘tween girls

It would have been easy for the teens involved in Teens Against Dating Abuse (TADA) to just keep on keeping on. After all, the two-year-old organization was involved in an impressive list of activities-from marching in parades to fundraising for Pearl Crisis Center (TADA’s sponsoring organization) to meeting with state legislators and county board members, all efforts designed to raise awareness about teen dating abuse while educating themselves about it, too. But it wasn’t enough.

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To learn more about TADA and their activism check out their website: www.tadapearl.com.

TADA members, mainly girls, were all high-school age. In many cases, said Pearl’s Executive Director Judy Pearson, they had deeply ingrained attitudes. “You can catch the younger girls while they’re still forming attitudes; with the older ones, [attitudes are] more ingrained,” Pearson said. So Pearson and Pearl staffer Krista McFarland, who works closely with TADA, wondered about expanding TADA’s membership-and message-to younger girls.

TADA members and Pearl staff agree that TADA members, not adults, make the decisions about the organization. “It’s our organization,” said Princeton High School junior Sara Van De Veer, 17. And TADA members agreed that expanding their membership to tweens is important. “Having the younger girls involved is really good. Sometimes they have more energy than high schoolers! It’s good to get them educated younger, and they can help teach their younger siblings,” Sara said. She ought to know-her younger sisters Anne, 15, and Tess, 11, are both TADA members.

That doesn’t mean that the age expansion has been seamless. “It’s not totally smooth,” Sara said. “If you compared our group of girls to a pond, it’s definitely not ripple free. Sometimes the older girls think the younger ones are obnoxious. Sometimes the younger ones think we’re boring.” About 12-14 of TADA’s approximately 75 members are now younger girls.

The need to get TADA’s message out is startling. According to Pearson, “Probably 95 percent [of the girls in TADA’s target audience of Mille Lacs County young people] have been touched by dating abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse or child abuse of some kind.” It is so pervasive, she said, that the older girls don’t always recognize that, say, a boyfriend calling 20 or 30 times a day is a red flag.

Pearson said that the younger girls have brought some different energy to TADA. They are very attentive and emotionally open. “They’re more willing to share,” she said.

TADA’s three chapters (Princeton, Milaca, and Onamia) meet separately each month, and quarterly they meet together. Their most popular activity is the yearly trip to the Capitol to talk with their legislators. “The kids love it,” said Pearson. “They didn’t know you could do that-talk to [state] senators and [state] representatives.”

In between parades and Capitol visits, TADA members keep busy educating themselves about issues related to domestic and dating abuse. They recently viewed Jean Kilbourne’s ground-breaking film, “Killing Us Softly III,” about the link between violence and media portrayals of women. Pearson can’t get out of her mind one teen’s response. “She said, ‘I shouldn’t even be alive because I don’t fit in the mold [of how the media thinks girls should be].'”

TADA hopes that by reaching younger girls, they will hear fewer remarks like that.

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