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NEWS | Feb. 12, 2013

Teen dating violence; what you need to know

By Brenda Edmond 628th Medical Group Family Advocacy Outreach Manager

February is a month when love is certainly in the air as we anticipate romantic dinner dates, flowers or gifts from the ones we love. February is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
Few adults are aware of the prevalence of dating violence among teens. In a survey conducted by Women's Health magazine, more than 80 percent of parents indicated they did not feel teen dating violence was an issue. This disconnect is scary as it allows the violence to flourish in silence and isolation, and can quickly spiral out of control.

Consider these facts:
· Approximately one in four adolescents report being physically or sexually abused by a current or former intimate partner.
· Violent behavior typically begins as early as age 12.
· Half of all date rapes occur among teenagers.
· One in three teens report knowing a friend who hit, punched, kicked or physically hurt their dating partner.

Teen dating violence is defined as physical, sexual or emotional/verbal abuse within a dating relationship, to include stalking behaviors. Physical abuse is any intentional use of physical force with the intent of causing fear or injury. Emotional and verbal abuse are non-physical behaviors intended to humiliate, intimidate or isolate.

Sexual abuse, on the other hand, occurs when someone forces unwanted sexual activity, especially through threats or coercion. Examples of abusive behaviors may include the following:

Physical abuse:
· Hitting
· Kicking
· Throwing things
· Pushing
· Biting
· Choking
· Hair pulling
· Use of a weapon

Emotional abuse:
· Shaming
· Bullying
· Name-calling
· Isolating from others
· Purposely embarrassing a partner
· Threatening to hurt oneself
· Stalking

Sexual abuse:
· Forcing a date to have sex
· Unwanted touching
· Forcing a date to do other sexual things he or she doesn't want to do

Dating violence is not limited to personal contact. Almost half of all teens experience digital abuse which involves the use of technology to intimidate, harass, stalk or bully the victim. Unfortunately, many teens allow this type of abuse because they believe it is normal. Many parents on the other hand are unaware it is even taking place.

In the United States, teens and young women experience the highest rates of relationship violence compared to any other group. This should be particularly concerning for parents, since adolescence is already such an impressionable time. Abusive dating relationships can have a negative impact both long and short term. Victims of abuse tend to do poorly in school and often report binge drinking, suicide attempts and physical fighting. Victims and perpetrators of dating violence may carry these unhealthy and abusive relationship patterns into future relationships.
When violence occurs, most teens seek advice from their peers. Unfortunately their peers often lack the maturity and knowledge to get them the help they need. As parents, if we educate ourselves we can become our teens' greatest ally.

If you have been concerned about your teen, consider any changes since they became involved in a particular relationship, or over a specific period of time. Then ask yourself whether your teen:

· Has had bruises or other physical injuries that are unusual or don't match the explanation of how the injury happened.
· Has had a change in personality - particularly if an outgoing and upbeat teen has become quiet and withdrawn.
· Has started to have problems at school.
· Has stopped hanging out with friends and started spending all free time with a romantic partner.
· Can't seem to make independent decisions.
· Has had a sudden change in appearance or clothing style.
· Has started using drugs or alcohol.
· Has started showing signs of stress, such as appetite changes, changes in sleep patterns, changes in mood - particularly being depressed or anxious.
· Has changed usage patterns of telephone, internet, cell phone or other technology.

If you see any of these signs, don't be shy - talk to your teen about how the relationship is going. Listen, don't judge. Let your teen know you are there for them. Discuss healthy versus unhealthy relationships and how to set boundaries. Check on them frequently and if they need help ending a relationship, seek support from Family Advocacy, school counselors, or a mental health professional. If there are clear signs of abuse and your teen denies the situation, don't wait. Immediately contact one of these resources and get advice on what to do next.

Teen dating abuse is a serious issue. If you suspect that your teen is being abused, get help as soon as possible. Your teen's well-being depends on it.

For more information, call Family Advocacy at 963-6972 on the Air Base or 764-4192 on the Weapons Station.