Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

When Teen Dating Goes Bad

The effects of teen dating violence

Bethany stared out the window wondering how she ever got into the mess she was in… She had just turned 17 and she should be in the prime of her teen years. She should be carefree and having fun, but that was far from the truth! Her cell vibrated continuously beside her. "Why won't he leave me alone?" she asked. "I have given him my whole life. What else does he want?" Bethany picked up a picture of her friends taken the summer before she started dating Brad. She missed them. They tried to warn her that Brad was no good for her, but she thought she was in love, she thought she could save him...

Now she was the one who needed to be saved. She was the victim of a violent relationship. At first it was awesome, like a romance movie. He gave her gifts, complimented her, and told her how much she meant to him. Then like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he transformed into someone else. It was like she was living inside her worst nightmare. Brad hit her, humiliated her, called her names and made her do things she would have never dreamed of doing. He had even forced her to do sexual things to him that later disgusted her.

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Pulling up her shirt sleeve, Bethany looked at the fresh bruise that marked her delicate skin, his mark...he always left his mark... In the past shame and humiliation had kept her from telling someone, but Bethany couldn't carry the burden any longer, it was too heavy. She knew she had to break the cycle; she knew she needed help; she knew she deserved better. Bethany wanted to be free.

This month marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This national campaign brings awareness to an issue that marks this nation - domestic violence. Unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence were once victims to another very real issue, Teen Dating Violence (which also runs a national campaign in the month of February). Teen Dating Violence is defined as the psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual violence that occurs within a dating relationship. In this form of relationship bullying can occur during face-to-face encounters and electronically. Just like with bullying, the use of technology makes escaping an abusive partner difficult and it can continue 24/7. If not deterred early, victims can suffer from long-term effects, such as:

• decline in academic performance

• susceptibility to alcohol or drug use

depression

self-harm

suicide attempts

• future relationships with abusive partners

What the Statistics say about Teen Dating Violence

One in three American youths between the ages of 14 and 20 years have been victims of teen violence or have been violent toward a date (American Psychological Association's 121st Annual Convention). And while you may think girls are less violent, this study showed girls reported violent behavior equivalent to what the boys reported. These alarming statistics show that dating violence is much too common of an occurrence with both boys and girls today.

In a National survey, 9.4 percent of high school students reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend within 12 months prior to the survey. Approximately 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men who were victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner, first experienced some kind of dating violence between the ages of 11 and 17 years.

Misuse of technology is another problem plaguing our youth today. Between social media, texts, cell phones, and other communication apps, dating abuse can become a vicious cycle that never ends. In a study by the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center 1 in 4 teens had been abused or harassed online or through texts by their dating partners. Electronic harassment usually occurred off school property and outside of school hours. Teens reported that the most common forms of electronic abuse involved their partner messing with their social media accounts, sending them embarrassing and/or threatening messages, pressuring them to share risqué and/or sexual photos and sending many, many messages.

Results also indicated that youths who were targeted by dating cyberbullying were also at a higher risk for other forms of dating abuse. They were twice as likely to be physically abused, 2.5 times as likely to be psychologically abused, and 5 times as likely to be sexually coerced. A scary finding was that both boys and girls justify violent actions in which it is okay to hit their dating partner. Twenty five percent of boys and girls in high school said if your partner cheated on you, you should be allowed to hit him/her, and if your partner makes you jealous you should also be able to hit him/her.

Abusive Dating Partner Warning Signs

Here are some early warning signs that a dating partner may have violent and abusive tendencies:

• Extreme jealousy

• Controlling and demanding

• Manipulative and deceitful behavior

• Quick to fall in love

• Unpredictable mood swings

• Use of alcohol and/or drugs

• Violent and aggressive tendencies

• Isolates victim from friends and family

• Uses physical force during arguments

• Requires constant contact, does not give space

• Calls names and continuously puts others down

• Comes from a family history of violence or criminal behavior •

Dating Violence Victim Warning Signs:

• Physical signs of injury

• Decline in school performance

• Decline in hygiene and appearance

• Indecisive

• Changes in mood or personality

• Use of drugs/alcohol

• Isolation

• Depression

• Decrease in self-esteem

• Withdrawn from family and friends

• Withdrawn from activities once enjoyed doing •

• Overly dependent on boyfriend/girlfriend

Pregnancy

• Has unexplainable injuries

Helping your teen...

In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that 55% of parents reported talking to their teen (ages 11 to 18) about dating violence. Mothers were more likely than fathers to engage in these conversations. The study also found that teen dating violence was less likely to be discussed than other teen-related issues such as: academics, alcohol and drugs, family finances, sex, and dating relationships in general.

Parents who reported not talking about dating abuse with their teens cited that either their child was not dating or was too young, that their child would learn about the issue through experience, or that they (parents) didn’t know how to engage in a discussion about the topic. While 55% of parents have some form of conversation about the issue, with 1 in 3 teens involved in dating violence, that is not a high enough percentage. According to another study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, about 44 percent of girls and 36 percent of boys have reported experiencing physical or sexual partner abuse by young adulthood. So collectively we have some work to do.

Parents play an important role in helping their child develop positive and strong self images. Learning how to assert oneself is important in deterring teen violence. Parents, it is never too early to help your child know that he/she has rights. Young adults deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and no one should ever treat them poorly. Exuberate confidence in your child and encourage him/her to speak openly and candidly with you about what is going on in his/her life.

Teen Dating Violence is a form of bullying. It is meant to torment, harass and harm the victim. No longer can young people see violence as a means to express and communicate with each another; especially one they claim to care about. Model love, compassion, and respect. Teach your teen to reciprocate what he or she has learned from you in his or her relationships. Together we can help find peace in our homes and in our communities.

Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Dating Abuse Helpline

Love is Respect 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or 1.800.787.3224 (TTY)

Victims of Crime 

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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