JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —
February, with Valentine’s Day, is a month when love is in the air as we anticipate romantic dinner dates, flowers or gifts from the ones we love. February is also a time to call attention to the darker side of relationships.
February is also National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three high school students experience some kind of dating violence in their relationships while 81 percent of parents are not aware dating violence is an issue. This disconnect is problematic because it allows violence to flourish and, possibly, get out of control. Consider these facts from the CDC:
· One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
· Violent behavior typically begins as early as age 12.
· Half of all date rapes occur among teenagers.
· The severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.
· Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse.
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/verbal abuse is non-physical behaviors intended to humiliate, intimidate or isolate. Sexual abuse occurs when someone forces unwanted sexual activity, especially through threats or coercion. Examples of abusive behaviors may include the following:
· Throwing things
· Hair Pulling
· Use of a weapon
· Isolating from others
· Purposely embarrassing a partner
· Threatening to hurt oneself
· Forcible sex
· Unwanted touching
· Forcing another to do other sexual things he or she doesn’t want to do
Dating violence is not limited to personal contact. According to a report from the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, nearly a quarter 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’s normal. However, many parents are unaware the digital abuse is even taking place.
In the United States, according to the Dept. of Justice, 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 awkward, uncertain, difficult time for many teenagers. Abusive dating relationships can have long and short term negative impact. Victims of abuse tend to do poorly in school, report binge drinking, make suicide attempts, take part in physical fighting and engage in sexual activity. Victims and perpetrators of dating violence may carry these unhealthy and abusive relationship patterns into future relationships.
In my experience, when violence occurs, most teens seek advice from their peers. Unfortunately most teens often lack the maturity and knowledge to get their peers the help they need. Parents can become their teen’s greatest ally. However, they must be educated on what to look for. If you notice changes in your teen’s behavior after becoming involved in a particular relationship, or over a specific period of time, ask yourself, “Has my teen:
· Had any unusual bruises or other physical injuries that don’t match the explanation of how the injury happened?
· Had a change in personality– particularly if an outgoing and upbeat teen has become quiet and withdrawn.
· Started to have problems at school.
· Stopped hanging out with friends, and started spending all free time with a romantic partner.
· Seemed unable to make independent decisions.
· Had a sudden change in appearance or clothing style.
· Started using drugs or alcohol.
· Started showing signs of stress, such as appetite changes, changes in sleep pattern, changes in mood --particularly being down, depressed, or anxious.
· Changed usage patterns of telephone, internet, cell phone or other technology.
If you see any of these signs, 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 with them and how to set boundaries. Check on them frequently and, if help is needed breaking off the relationship, seek support from Family Advocacy, the school counselor or a mental health professional. If there are clear signs of abuse and your teen is denying the situation, immediately contact one of these resources for advice on next steps.
Teen dating abuse is a serious issue. If you suspect your teen is being abused, get help as soon as possible. For more information, call Family Advocacy at 963-6972 (Air Base) or 764-4192 (Weapons Station).