Did you know that in a recent national survey, 1 in 10 teens reported being hit or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend at least once in the 12 months before the survey? Additionally, during the 12 months before the survey, 1 in 10 teens reported they had been kissed, touched, or physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to at least once by someone they were dating (CDC). February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and it is important social workers are aware of the potential risks of this vulnerable population.
Teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner. Violence can take many forms, and is more frequently expressed psychologically (23%) than it is physically (13%) (Coker et al., 2014).
Coker et al. (2014) found how widespread dating violence is among high school students, discovering that within a one-year period, 33.4% of students reported being victimized, and 20.2% being perpetrators of teen dating violence. It is also worth considering that many teens do not report violence because they are afraid to tell friends and family, thus dating violence may be more widespread than reported.
As teens develop emotionally, they are heavily influenced by experiences in their relationships. Unhealthy, abusive, or violent relationships can have severe negative consequences on a developing teen. Youth who experience dating violence are more likely to experience the following:
- Symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Engagement in unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco and drug use, and alcohol
- Involvement in antisocial behaviors
- Thoughts about suicide
Not only are they short-term consequences to teen dating violence, but there are long-term implications as well. For example, youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college. Additionally, a 2011 CDC nationwide survey found that 23% of females and 14% of males who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.
Communicating with your partner, managing uncomfortable emotions like anger and jealousy, and treating others with respect are a few ways to keep relationships healthy and nonviolent. Teens receive messages about how to behave in relationships from peers, adults in their lives, and the media. All too often these examples suggest that violence in a relationship is normal, but violence is never acceptable. There are reasons why violence occurs.
Violence is related to certain risk factors. Risks of having unhealthy relationships increase for teens who --
- Believe that dating violence is acceptable
- Are depressed, anxious, or have other symptoms of trauma
- Display aggression towards peers or display other aggressive behaviors
- Use drugs or illegal substances
- Engage in early sexual activity and have multiple sexual partners
- Have a friend involved in dating violence
- Have conflicts with a partner
- Witness or experience violence in the home
Research conducted by Coker et al. (2014) confirms these and other risk factors, noting victimization and perpetration rates “were highest among females, those receiving free or reduced-price meals, those not exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, students reporting parental or guardian partner violence, binge drinking, and bullying” (p. 1220).
Dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations, and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched a Start Strong initiative, aimed at 11-to14- year olds that built coalitions among parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, and teen leaders to reinforce healthy relationship norms. The model has been adapted in eleven communities nationwide, using after-school programs, athletic programs, and role-play scenarios to deliver positive relationship messaging and teach relationship skills (Schubert, 2015, p. S4). Educating middle-school aged children is an important, proactive strategy, as young adolescents are beginning to form their first romantic relationships at this developmental stage. When teen dating violence behaviors have been established by later adolescence, reactive messaging delivered later in adolescence may be less effective.
Source: Center for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html
- Loveisrespect - Highly-trained peer advocates offer support, information and advocacy to young people who have questions or concerns about their dating relationships. We also provide information and support to concerned friends and family members, teachers, counselors, service providers and members of law enforcement. Free and confidential phone, live chat and texting services are available 24/7/365. loveisrespect.org
- Dating Violence Youth Education Package - Contains materials and lessons designed for Michigan school educators to increase awareness and prevention among their school communities. http://1.usa.gov/1PzgVzT
- Break the Cycle - The leading national nonprofit organization providing comprehensive dating abuse programs exclusively to young people ages 12 to 24. From the classroom to the courtroom to the floor of Congress, Break the Cycle works every day to give young people, and those who care about them, the tools they need to live safer, healthier lives. breakthecycle.org
- Start Strong - Comprehensive site with findings from pilot programs in each of eleven communities, with information on how to prevent teen dating violence through education, influencer engagement, messaging, and policy change. startstrong.futureswithoutviolence.org
- NASW Tips for Teen Relationships