One of the most important talks Bari Benjamin has had with her teenage daughter was about pop stars. But it wasn’t a discussion about music or fashion.
In February of 2009, R&B singer Chris Brown was accused of assaulting his then-girlfriend, fellow superstar Rihanna. Benjamin, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at Squirrel Hill Psychological Services, while walking home with her daughter, used the media storm surrounding the attack to open a dialogue about dating violence.
“I wanted to initiate a discussion and hear her thoughts,” said Benjamin. “We talked about it all the way home. I was able to squeeze in some things I wanted to say, but by encouraging her to talk first, she expressed her thoughts and feelings.”
Benjamin will bring her tactics, aimed at both teenagers and parents, for spotting, discussing and preventing relationship abuse to Temple Emanuel in the South Hills Monday, Oct. 4, in a program called “Is it Love? Creating Healthy Teen Relationships and Ending Dating Abuse.” The evening was organized by Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Jewish Community Center South Hills, Jacob’s Ladder Committee of Temple Emanuel and Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. It is free and open to the public.
The program is actually two years in the making, said Beth El congregant Joan Charlson, who helped facilitate the evening’s events.
“Conversations were being held within the Jewish community… at that point it was vague as to how the program would be implemented, but the focus would be on prevention and education about the pitfalls of dating violence,” said Charlson, “which the Jewish community largely ignored.”
Two years later, “Is it Love?” finally took shape, and the Pittsburgh community, with Monroeville teenager Demi Cuccia’s 2007 murder by her boyfriend still a painful memory, is taking note. Beth El even postponed its confirmation program.
“Is it Love?” will include talks given by Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El and Rabbi Jessica Locketz of Temple Emanuel, a discussion with Benjamin, smaller group sessions for parents and teenagers, as well as a portion of the video “When Push Comes to Shove, It’s No Longer Love.”
Jewish Women International created the video, which features testimonials from dating abuse survivors.
“If it were acted out, I don’t think it’d be nearly as dramatic and powerful,” said Charlson. “It’s a good video to watch, but a little painful.”
In addition to classic signs of an abusive relationship — the teenager no longer wants to see friends or family, has unpredictable mood swings, seems depressed — parents must be alert, Benjamin said, for new avenues for mistreatment, like texting, Facebook and other social media. But while parents may not be capable of staying on top of budding technology, keeping person-to-person communication open is key.
“I don’t think the question is whether parents are setting enough limits for their children and teens,” said Benjamin, “but instead having an open dialogue about important issues, including healthy relationships. I know from experience, once we start lecturing, my daughter shuts down.”
Want to go?
Is it Love?
Oct. 4, 6:45 p.m.
Temple Emanuel of South Hills
(412) 279-7600 Ext. 24
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)