Teens sit behind a foggy glass window.

By Colleen Sharlow and Heather Ward

With so many traumatic events going on in the world and in our nation, it is easy to overlook some serious issues that are still happening, even if they have not made the headlines in the news or social media.  One of these issues is teen dating violence.  Recently, we recognized February as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. The goal was to raise awareness for teens, young adults, and parents about dating violence, the cycle of abuse, and how to build healthy relationship skills.

The Alarming Statistics of Teen Dating Violence

Teen dating violence includes any type of physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse between two individuals who are in a close relationship. According to the CDC, teen dating violence is far more common than people may think, and it affects millions of teens who are in relationships in the U.S. every year. In the last year, about 1 in 11 female and 1 in 15 male teens have experienced physical dating violence. In addition to this, 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students reported to have experienced sexual dating violence in the past year.

Consequences of Unhealthy Teen Relationships

Unhealthy relationships can have many effects on a teenager, and those who are victims of dating violence are more likely use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, engage in unhealthy and risky behaviors, experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, and think about committing suicide. It is extremely important for pre-teens and teens to learn the skills they need in order to establish and maintain healthy relationships in their lives. Teen dating violence is preventable, and once teens and young adults learn how to deal with their feelings in a healthy way and communicate effectively, the occurrence of teen dating violence will be reduced.

Educational Programs for Prevention: Spotlight on Safe Dates

There are programs available to help teach young people how to recognize, stop, and help others who may be in abusive relationships.  One program is Safe Dates, TM an evidence-based prevention program for middle and/or high school students that is designed to stop/prevent dating violence.  It addresses both sides of the violence – the victim and the perpetrator. Safe Dates addresses multiple forms of dating violence, such as psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. The program goals are to change adolescent norms on dating violence and gender roles, improve conflict resolution skills for dating relationships, promote victims’ and perpetrators’ beliefs in the need for help and awareness of community resources for dating violence, encourage help-seeking by victims and perpetrators, and develop peer help-giving skills.

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Teen Dating Violence

A crucial step in combating teen dating violence is being able to recognize the warning signs. These can often be subtle and not easily noticeable to outsiders. It’s important for teens, parents, and educators to be aware of these red flags, which can include extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, unexplained marks or bruises, sudden changes in mood or personality, and isolation from friends and family. Victims may also receive excessive texts or calls, be subjected to public humiliation, or feel pressured into sexual activities. By educating our youth about these warning signs, we can empower them to seek help if they find themselves in a potentially abusive relationship.

The Impact of Digital Technology on Teen Relationships

In the digital age, teen dating violence has taken on new forms. Social media and texting can contribute to and exacerbate abusive behaviors. Cyberbullying, sexting, and digital stalking are modern tools for abusers to control, intimidate, and manipulate their partners. The anonymity and ease of access provided by digital platforms can lead to persistent harassment. It is crucial to include digital safety in discussions about healthy relationships, emphasizing the importance of boundaries, respect, and consent, both online and offline. Teens should feel empowered to report any form of digital abuse and understand that they have the right to a safe and healthy relationship, both in person and virtually.

For more information on how your child’s school can receive this valuable program, call Wellspring Center for Prevention at (732)254-3344 or email at mail@wcpnj.org.

Image credit: Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash

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