But February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, so there’s no better time to discuss this serious situation that’s affecting way more adolescents and young people than we think.
What is dating violence?
Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner.
It can take the form of physical violence, like hitting or shoving, or it can be verbal or emotional abuse—like humiliation or intimidation.
In today’s digital world, more and more dating violence is happening through the web. Social media provides an easy channel for harassment, threats, and cyber bullying in the context of a dating relationship.
Is dating violence common?
More so than most of us realize. Consider these chilling stats:
- Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
- One in three girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Yes, you read that right: 1 in 3.
- One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse or date rape.
And let’s not forget that these stats are probably under-estimated due to the fact that so much of this kind of abuse goes unreported. Indeed, one report estimates that only a third of teens in an abusive relationship ever tell anyone about it.
What are the effects?
Dating violence is about so much more than a one-time cruel comment or angry shove.
Teens suffering from dating abuse generally suffer academically, emotionally, and socially. Their grades drop, they become isolated from friends and family, and they often turn to drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous coping tools.
They are at greater risk for depression, eating disorders, and risky sexual behavior—an abused teen girl is six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get an STD.
And it gets worse: One study found that half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide.
Why are we not talking about this issue more?
What should parents watch out for?
We all know that high school relationships are often fraught with drama and dysfunction, so it can be tough for parents to judge the line between normal teenage behavior and abuse.
The Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month website lists these 10 warning signs of common abusive behaviors.
- Checking your teen’s cell phone or email without permission
- Constantly putting your teen down
- Extreme jealousy or insecurity
- Explosive temper
- Isolating your teen from family or friends
- Making false accusations
- Mood swings
- Physically hurting your teen in any way
- Telling your teen what to do
What should parents do if they think their teen is experiencing dating violence?
As difficult as it can be—and as strongly as your teen might resist the conversation—the worst thing a parent can do is ignore the physical or emotional abusive behavior.
The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline is available to help parents and teens 24/7 via phone, text, or online chat. They also offer great resources for teens about such relevant topics as how to talk about sex in a healthy relationship, and how to show respect through texting.