By Nicole Bruno, MSW, MPA
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. One third of all teens in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
Dating is an important milestone in a teenager’s life. But what happens when dating goes wrong and violence occurs in the relationship? Teen dating violence crosses all racial, ethnic, gender, religious, and socioeconomic statuses. Anyone, anywhere, can be affected. It is a social pandemic that, if not controlled and stopped, will continue to prevail and hurt all communities.
More and more teenagers are entering into abusive relationships and the violence does not stop there. Often the cycle of abuse becomes the norm and continues into their adult relationships as domestic violence.
Teen Dating Violence is defined as “the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically between a current or former dating partner. Yes, this means it can also occur online and through social media and other forms of electronic communication such as texting, emails, and posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Be aware of the relationships and conversations your teens have on social media, especially if you notice changes in your their behavior.
Why is all of this important? Because there are negative effects that occur when a teen is in a violent and abusive relationship, such as depression, anxiety, anti-social behaviors, low self-esteem and sometimes even thoughts of suicide (CDC, 2014). Teens are still developing their identities, forming concepts about the world and the relationships around them. Do not allow them to continue being at risk.
Prevention Is the Key – Be Aware of the Signs
Speaking to your children about healthy relationships and healthy boundaries are just as important these days as the “sex talk.” Teens especially, need to know that they deserve and are worthy of a relationship that consists of:
- Healthy communication
- Trust and Support
- Non-threatening behavior
- Shared power
- Honesty and accountability
- Self-confidence and personal growth
It’s important for parents and teens to know the early warning signs of abusive relationships. Frequently, these signs emerge slowly and go unnoticed, often being excused as “having a bad day” or blamed on someone or something else. But under no circumstances is abusive behavior acceptable.
Early warning signs of an abusive relationship include having the other person:
- Yell at them
- Says mean and rude things about the teen — tells them they are a bad person
- Says negative things about their appearance
- Calls them names
- Humiliates them in private or in front of others
- Speaks ill of their loved ones
- Blames them whenever something does not go right
Teens are not always willing to “tell” on their boy/girlfriend. They often believe it’s their own fault or they can “fix” their abuser. It’s not easy to admit someone you care about is hurting you; as a result they may act out in other ways.
Negative consequences/behaviors that a teen who is in a violent or abusive relationship might be exhibiting:
- Unexpected pregnancy
- Illegal drug use/alcohol use
- Failing grades
- Emotional outbursts
- Changes in personality
- Excuses for the significant other victimizing the teen
- Bruises/marks on the teen from his or her partner
What to Do
Talk to your teen about the concerns you have and the risks they are in. Be cautious, when a teen tries to end the relationship, the violence and abuse might escalate. Be prepared, it may be necessary to get the other teen’s parents and the police involved. Seek help from local organizations to put a plan in place, whether it is a restraining order, counseling services, or having a buddy system.
Who Can Help
- Kaity’s Way: Kaitlyn Marie Sudberry was 17 years old and just months away from graduating high school when an abusive relationship ended her life. Kaity’s Way provides assistance to children of all ages involved in violent relationships. Join the movement with Kaity’s Way and help spread the message that teen dating violence is not acceptable. They are dedicated to educating the public and helping those in any violent relationship situation. Kaity’s Way offers workshops, presentations, and training throughout Arizona. For more information and event schedules, visit www.kaitysway.org or www.kaitysway.blogspot.com, call 602-740-2734, or email email@example.com.
- I Have This Friend: Check out the musical play “I Have This Friend” presented by Fix the Hurt. They perform musicals and plays in the community and local schools. Their thought-provoking and riveting performances are worth seeing to get a deeper and more intimate perspective on the dynamics of violence in a relationship and how to help those you care about and love. More information is available at www.helpfixthehurt.org or call 480-834-3387.
- Cup O’Karma: Next time you crave a frappe, stop by the Community Café with a cause, Cup O’Karma in Mesa (1720 W Southern Ave) or Chandler Main Library (22 S Delaware St). The National Advocacy and Training Network (NATN) was started by Monalou Callery along with a local group of survivors, volunteers, advocates and professionals working to end violence against women and children.
Besides food and coffee, Cup O’Karma serves several purposes: Job skills and workforce development and training, onsite advocacy and referral resources, and is a casual, safe environment for at-risk community members to seek information. All proceeds fund NATN programs and transitional housing (SEEDS) Additional information about Cup O’Karma and the National Advocacy and Training Network SEEDS program is available at www.natn-az.org.
Additional resources include:
- Love Is Respect: www.LoveIsRespect.org; 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522.
- National Domestic Violence 24-Hour Helpline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- My Sister’s Place: A domestic violence shelter, Catholic Charities-Arizona, www.catholiccharitiesaz.org
- Arizona’s Coalition to end Sexual and Domestic Violence: www.azcadv.org
There is help. There is a way… to be safe, strong, and healthy in every relationship.