By Jan White
February has been designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Unfortunately, many young people don’t even realize they are abuse victims. The Family Crisis Center of East Texas plans to use the month of February to promote ways in which teens experiencing abuse can find help. Teen dating violence is more complex than it seems on the surface. Not only does it impact the life of the teenager involved, but it also affects their family, their friends, and even their community.
One of the most recent upswings in teen dating abuse comes from easy access to social media and instant messaging, making it simpler than ever for teens to stay in touch with their partners. Nearly one in three teens reported that their dating partner checks up on them multiple times a day, either on the internet or their cell phone, asking questions about where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with, making it easy for abusers to inflict digital dating harm. And worse, this digital abuse usually takes place out of the view of family and friends, making difficult for those who care to intervene.
Studies have shown that around 10 percent of teens report being victims of physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. Nationwide, young people between the ages of twelve and nineteen experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault. And those teens are likely to suffer long-term behavioral consequences, including suicide attempts, eating disorders, and drug use. And worse, adolescents in abusive relationships often carry on these patterns of violence into future relationships and can end up either victims or perpetrators of adult intimate partner violence.
It’s important for those who have teenagers living in their homes or who have daily interaction with teens to communicate with them about teen dating violence. Here are some suggestions about how to approach the topic of dating violence:
Talk about warning signs of dating abuse – which can be physical, sexual, emotional, and even financial.
Discuss how the media might portray unhealthy relations like ‘stalking as being romantic or harmless’ when it can actually be dangerous.
Talk about physical, emotional, and digital boundaries.
Emphasize empowerment and self-care. Discuss elements of a healthy relationship, such as respect, communication, trust, boundaries, honesty, and equality. Talk about what they should look for in a dating partner.
Be accepting of what the teen shares with you. Even if it’s hard to hear, be supportive and not accusatory or judgmental.
Focus on behaviors, not on the person – teens can be very defensive of their choices, even if their dating partner is harming them.
The Family Crisis Center provides a local text line (936) 552-9256, which is available for teens with questions or who need assistance. The free, confidential text line can connect them with an individual who can provide resources or referrals. For more information about teen dating violence or to speak with someone about your concerns, contact the local center at (936) 544-2151.