February is Dating Violence Awareness Month
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe dating violence as physical, sexual, or psychological harm placed on one partner by the other in a dating relationship. Physical violence includes slapping, scratching or pushing, but can be more extreme. Psychological violence includes insulting, humiliating, threatening, or trying to control what the other partner can or cannot do.
Most studies and statistics show that one in three teenagers have experienced an abusive dating relationship. Forty percent of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. And, it does not fit stereotypes… dating violence can just as easily happen to the popular, straight-A student as to anyone else. In the last year, one in 10 teens has reported being physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in five young women has been sexually assaulted while they’re in college. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average. This has become such a serious problem that Vice President Biden is focusing his commitment to reducing violence against women specifically on teens and young women ages 16-24. But parents of tweens, be aware that almost three-fourths of seventh and eighth graders report that they are “dating” so violence can begin as early as 12.
While there are many warning signs of abuse, some are more common in teen dating situations. Following are ten of the most common abusive behaviors that are committed by teens:
- Checking your cell phone or email without permission
- Constantly putting you down
- Extreme jealousy or insecurity
- Explosive temper
- Isolating you from family or friends
- Making false accusations
- Mood swings
- Physically hurting you in any way
- Telling you what to do
To prevent teen dating violence, it is absolutely critical that parents and/or teachers talk to teens about these behaviors. If you have a teen, you should specifically tell your child that the above list of behaviors is inappropriate and unacceptable for them to do to someone, nor should they accept these behaviors from someone else. Because teenagers are inexperienced with dating relationships and have romanticized views of love, they often don’t recognize when they are being abused or are abusing someone. We need to provide specific information to them about what constitutes a healthy relationship.
Parents should define a healthy relationship for their children BEFORE they start dating. We must reiterate that love means respect. That means that your partner respects you and your individuality, is not excessively jealous and does not make you feel guilty when you spend time studying or hanging out with family and friends. In a healthy relationship, you are both open and honest, and feel safe. Both of you have equal say and respected boundaries. You can communicate your feelings without being afraid of negative consequences. Finally, a good partner also compliments you, encourages you to achieve your goals, supports your choices, and does not resent your accomplishments.
Young women don’t often recognize the earliest signs of potential abuse for a variety of reasons. They often feel that they are responsible for solving problems in their relationships or that they can “fix” their boyfriend’s problems. They hear adults talking about working through tough issues and they misunderstand compromise as giving in. Their boyfriend’s jealousy often feels romantic to a young lady in her first relationship. There is also a fear of rejection – the chance that the boy will break up with her if she protests his behavior.
Many young men have been brought up to believe that “masculinity” is physical aggressiveness. Some boys believe they have the right to “control” their female partners or that their girlfriend is a possession. Some feel that they may lose respect in their male peer groups if they are attentive and supportive of their girlfriends.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline in the U.S. is: 800-799-7233 (SAFE). Parents should keep this number in case they need it, but also tell your teens where to find it so that they can get help if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you yet. That way if a teen feels the need to ask some questions, they can do so anonymously and get the support they need.