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Young people talk teen economic abuse and the meaning of service at SXSW EDU

At SXSW EDU, The Allstate Foundation gave youth the stage to highlight issues affecting them.

Group of four diverse women on a conference stage at SXSW in Austin, TX

Panelists Sharisse Kimbro, Kumani Bey, fellow college student Thuy-Lyz Dinh, and Sarah Gonzalez on stage at SXSW EDU.

April 24, 2024

"It starts in middle school," said college student Kumani Bey. That's when many teens start dating and "relying on friends and partners for some kind of security." Their relationships can come to take priority over everything else, even their plans for college and beyond.

Bey was teaching educators about teen economic abuse as part of a panel The Allstate Foundation hosted at SXSW EDU this March.

The Foundation made sure to include young people like Bey to talk about issues it's been working on for years: disrupting the cycle of relationship abuse and empowering youth to serve and improve communities. "Youth voices matter," said Sharisse Kimbro, The Allstate Foundation's program officer for relationship abuse. "They are the experts on the issues that affect them, and we're all stronger when youth leaders are involved."

One teen's story

Bey experienced teen economic abuse her senior year of high school. She'd already made plans for college.

"I started prioritizing my relationship over my own success and my own future. I was so scared that if I didn't move with her and we didn't make decisions based on our relationship, then we would fall apart."

When one partner in a relationship controls the other's life choices, it can derail a teen's academic success, job prospects and future financial freedom, said Sarah Gonzalez, associate director at Futures Without Violence. Her organization, which partners with The Allstate Foundation on relationship abuse, first recognized economic abuse in teens.

The two groups hosted the SXSW EDU panel to highlight findings from a 2021 study, funded by the Foundation, examining economic abuse in teen dating relationships.

What they found

In the study, less than half of young people considered educational interference, economic sabotage, and financial control and exploitation as aspects of teen dating violence or domestic violence.

Economic abuse often goes unnoticed, even among those causing or experiencing it.

Where Bey is now

Bey, who's studying women's and gender studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, is working to close that knowledge gap. She spends her time outside school spreading the word about teen economic abuse.

"A problem cannot be solved if nobody is aware of it [or] acknowledging that it is a problem," she said. "We don't even know the signs when we're experiencing it."

She wanted the educators to know signs to look for, like:

  • Skipping school or work
  • A drop in grades
  • Sudden changes to their college and career goals

Visit SXSW EDU's YouTube channel to see the full session with Bey and Thuy-Lyz Dinh.

What youth say about sevice

Youth voices matter even in the language we use. A new study by the Foundation and nonprofit Center for Expanding Leadership and Opportunity also shared at SXSW EDU, shows why.

One major finding: Young people define "service" differently than adults.

For them, it's not just about organized volunteer work - it's also about everyday acts of kindness, advocacy and helping others.

Why it matters

"This redefined idea of service means that way more young people are out there making a difference than they get credit for," said Greg Weatherford II, program officer for the Foundation's youth empowerment work.

In fact, the expanded definition means that 70% of people aged 18 to 25 perform some kind of service monthly - "much higher than the 25% we typically estimate," he said.

"Clearly, we need to reframe how we define service for a new generation so that we can better engage and support them."

Youth voices matter

Find out more about The Allstate Foundation's work with relationship abuse, youth empowerment and racial equity.

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