Do you remember your high school sweetheart? Do you remember your first date, your first kiss, your first school dance, the first time they told you you couldn’t wear that dress, the first time they cursed you out, the first time they hit you? February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, but these are questions that can and should be asked year-round.
Between sixth and twelfth grades is when violent behavior will begin in intimate relationships, and one in three teenagers will be in an abusive, unhealthy relationship by the time they finish high school. Females between the ages of 16 and 24 are three times more likely to be abused by an intimate partner.
Violence in teen dating relationships puts the victims at higher risk for future domestic violence relationships, eating disorders and substance abuse. The first step is to know and recognize the signs. There are the obvious signs, such as witnessing an abuser pushing or hitting the victim. However, there are many less obvious warning signs to be aware of. If a teen starts to pull away from family and close friends, and only spends time with their significant other, it’s a sign. A partner excessively checking in via texts or social media to keep tabs on their partner isn’t healthy. The victim will often cover for their partner, make excuses and blame themselves for their behavior, including outbursts or controlling tendencies.
With most violent teen dating relationships the abuse usually turns physical. The victim may start wearing more makeup than usual, or stop altogether so as to not draw attention to themselves. A sudden change in their physical appearance, including weight loss or gain, wearing baggier clothing and frequent bruises are signs of dating violence.
A victim often turns to self-blame and deprecation. They truly believe it is their fault for upsetting their partner and in turn “making” them become abusive. Only one third of teens in violent relationships will report the violence, but half of adolescents who experience abuse will attempt suicide. These relationships can result in the victim being pressured to have sexual relationships before they want to, and they may also be coerced into having unprotected sex.
Teen dating violence is slowly turning into an epidemic, but it is preventable. The first step is to believe a person who says they are a victim of abuse. More often than not, victims are afraid to come forward for fear of being alienated from peers and not being believed. Second, listen to them without judgment. These types of relationships happen to all people regardless of age, gender, nationality, class or sexual orientation. Third, do not pressure them to make any decisions automatically. The victim is still in love with their abuser, and may not want to get them in trouble or hurt them in any way. Instead, provide them with tools and sources (listed at the end of this article) to help them make the best decision.
Acknowledging the issue, and educating ourselves on teen dating violence, is the only way to prevent this from happening to future adolescents. Girls and boys are both at risk for being in a violent dating relationship. It is never too early to teach children the early warning signs of abusive relationships, but sometimes it can be too late.
- Love is Respect: LoveIsRespect.org
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: NDVH.org
- Break the Cycle: BreakTheCycle.org
- Teen Dating Violence: TeenDVMonth.org
- Local resources: Turning Point of Lehigh Valley: TurningPointLV.org
Gabriella Haklar is a Lehigh Valley resident with her husband, son and doodle. She is currently working toward her Master’s degree in literature.