Teen Dating Violence

We know that today’s youth are tomorrow’s adults. But we may not recognize that they are currently forming relationship norms for the future. The prevalence of cyber bullying and teen dating violence is climbing at bewildering rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four adolescents report verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from a dating partner each year. Youth may be attracting relationships that are chaotic, stressful and damaging, spanning from friendships to romantic partners. Sending a humiliating picture by text message or e-mail, purposely excluding a person from social groups and activities, or regularly monitoring where a person goes and who that person talks to, are all occurrences that seem to be more common among today’s youth.

What to Look For

When these types of incidences occur with frequency, they can become so familiar they start to feel normal even to people who otherwise felt a strong sense of self-confidence. Knowing what to look for is key in recognizing these dangerous red flags of unhealthy relationships. In romantic relationships, the facade of romance and passion often overpowers logic and the ability to recognize that what is happening is really not healthy. Feeling flattered that someone cares enough to pay “that much” attention often clouds the judgment of those looking for someone to share their time and innermost thoughts.

Without recognizing the impact of today’s (perhaps short-lived and whirlwind-like) teenage romances and “friendships” on tomorrow’s adult relationships, dangerous patterns can affect an entire community and society as a whole. The longer the pattern of unhealthy relationships goes uninterrupted, the more likely it will be to persist in the future. And before long, the generational effect starts to repeat itself.

What to Do

Understanding healthy relationships is the best prevention. Here are some things to keep in mind, for people of any age.

  • Communication – Act and speak in ways that will allow you to feel secure and at ease while expressing opinions, plans, and how you want to be treated. Practice open listening, use open dialogue and avoid critical judgment. If you don’t feel safe to express feelings in an established relationship, this can be considered a red flag.
  • Empathy – Consider the other person’s perspective. Imagining what the other person is experiencing, and asking questions for clarification can be helpful. Don’t assume that the other person feels just as you would in any given situation. Make an effort to really understand “what it’s like” for the other person.
  • Negotiating – Discuss opinions with respect, be willing to listen, allow room for change and making compromise. One person making all of the decisions in a relationship can be considered a red flag.
  • Personal Improvement – Respect your own goals and those of your partner. Support and encourage confidence and growth. Consistent attempts to deter someone from personal growth can be considered a red flag.
  • Maintaining Outside Friendships – Schedule time to spend with other people, including friends and family members. Maintain contact with people who are encouraging and respectful. Monopolizing or limiting time with other people can be considered a red flag. This can lead to isolation and can make it difficult for someone to seek help once they realize their relationship is not healthy.

What teens should know:

Dating violence can happen to anyone. It can be confusing and complicated to be in a dangerous relationship. The abuse might vary from verbal attacks, jealousy, manipulative/controlling behavior to physical attacks. NO ONE deserves to be treated this way. If you find yourself or a friend in an abusive relationship, remember that help is available and you don’t have to live in silence.

What parents should know:

If your teen is dating, watch for changes in behavior. Loss of contact with friends, changes in clothing/make-up, or sudden change in long term goals are issues to approach with open, nonjudgmental conversation.

What teachers should know:

If you suspect a teen could be a victim of dating violence, privately verbalize your concern. Remind him/her that if dating violence is happening, NO ONE deserves it. Encourage him/her to meet with a qualified professional to develop a safety plan. This could include a school counselor or domestic violence professional.

Heart 2 Heart, a BJC School Outreach and Youth Development sexual behavior program, can help students by providing education and resources for making good decisions regarding relationships.

For more information about healthy relationships, refer to the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1.866.331.9474 or www.loveisrespect.org. Additional domestic violence resources are available at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence www.ncadv.org Sources: Lessons from Literature and Family Violence Prevention Fund (2009) and www.cdc.gov.

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