You just have to turn on your TV set to know that domestic violence is everywhere. Unfortunately, teens are no exception. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month—offering the opportunity to learn more on the subject and get advice about how to speak to teens about it. Educating kids about what teen dating violence is, how to spot it and what to do about it, can help to keep them safe and happy, as well as lay the groundwork for well-balanced, healthy relationships in the future. And, as teen dating violence is a growing problem, it’s important.
It may seem shocking to contemplate discussing a subject as dark as domestic violence with such a young audience, but unhealthy relationships often start early in life. And, sadly, they can last a lifetime. The numbers are painfully telling:
- One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a partner they are dating—a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
- One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.
- Approximately 70% of college students say they have been sexually coerced.
What is Teen Dating Violence?
Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to have control and power over a dating partner. It can be physical (hitting, pinching, shoving, etc.), emotional (threatening, shaming or bullying behavior or isolation of a partner—keeping them away from friends and/or family), sexual (forcing sex), or stalking.
Dating violence doesn’t always happen in person. Increasingly it is electronic harassment like constant texting or embarrassing posts online. If you find that violent behaviors are growing in your relationship, it can be very dangerous. Especially for young people who deal with more peer pressure and are less experienced in relationships than the average adult.
Once you know what to look for, patterns of control are easy to spot. Sometimes it starts as simple teasing or name calling. Some of that might seem quite normal, but it can quickly become more serious, leading to more controlling or even violent behavior.
As relationships vary so greatly, it’s sometimes difficult to know when a behavior crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy or when it becomes abusive. Be on the lookout for these warning signs:
- Checking your cell phone or email without permission
- Constantly putting you down
- Extremely jealous or insecure
- Explosive temper
- Isolating you from family or friends
- Mood swings
- Physically hurting you in any way
- Telling you what to do
- Repeatedly pressuring you to have sex
- Pressuring you to send sexually suggestive texts or emails
Why Concentrate on Young People?
- According to the Bureau of Justice, young women ages 16-24 are most vulnerable.
- Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.
- The severity of domestic violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.
- Violent relationships in adolescence can put victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
- Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STD.
Not happening around you? Not true.
With one in three teens experiencing violence in their dating relationships, the need for awareness is strong. And with only 33% of teens in a violent relationship even telling anyone about the abuse, clearly we need to start the conversation. If your child isn’t experiencing it personally, chances are they know someone who is and can be of help given the right information.
Teaching teens what is healthy and what is not can go a long way in giving them the tools they need to create healthy relationships that can last them their lifetimes.
This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Lee's Summit Lifestyle Magazine.